A step by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government toward relocating the U.S. military base on Okinawa was praised by the Pentagon’s spokesman as a “key milestone that comes after many years of hard work.”
The government’s effort to obtain a landfill permit shows its support for achieving “a sustainable U.S. military presence with less impact on the Okinawan people,” George Little, the spokesman, said today in an e-mailed statement.
Abe’s government submitted an application to Okinawa’s prefectural government to reclaim land needed to move the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to a site near Henoko, the Kyodo News reported today from Tokyo.
It’s a politically sensitive effort by Abe’s government to restart longtime plans to relocate the base from a crowded residential district where it has contributed to strains in U.S.-Japan relations. Sentiment among officials and residents on Okinawa has been that the base should be closed, not moved within the island. Critics blame the American presence for crime and pollution.
In addition to moving the air station on Okinawa, the U.S. plans to move some troops from there to Guam and Australia as it acts on a global strategy calling for more emphasis on the Asia Pacific region.
“This effort is critical to our ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and our ability to maintain a well-distributed and politically sustainable force throughout Asia,” Little said in the statement.