U.S. deputy defense chief hails progress on Okinawa base relocation

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said Friday there are "signs of tangible progress" toward realizing the long-stalled relocation of a key U.S. base in Okinawa Prefecture after Japan started a seabed survey despite local protests.

"This is a major accomplishment that opens the way for us to make substantial progress in realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa," Work told reporters after meeting with Japanese Senior Vice Defense Minister Ryota Takeda in Tokyo.

Takeda said both countries reaffirmed their "commitment" to the relocation plan for the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station. To ease the burden on Okinawa of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities and training, the two defense officials also reaffirmed plans to move some training exercises by MV-22 Ospreys out of the southwestern prefecture.

The Defense Ministry is now conducting a drilling survey at the relocation site off the coast of Henoko after Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved a landfill project for building the replacement facility there in December.

During their meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Takeda and Work agreed to accelerate work toward the first revision in 17 years to bilateral defense cooperation guidelines that define the roles of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.

Traveling to the Asia-Pacific region for the first time since he took the post in April, Work said the revision would be "ambitious and substantive," given that the Japanese government approved a reinterpretation of the pacifist Constitution in July to enable it to defend allies under armed attack.

The issue of collective self-defense remains divisive amid concerns that it could put the country's postwar pacifist principles at risk. Japan still needs to revise a series of laws to legalize the exercise of the right. The United States has welcomed the decision, while some Asian neighbors like China and South Korea remain wary.