Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and a senior Pentagon official reaffirmed their close coordination Monday over the planned relocation of a U.S. military base within despite local authorities’ insistence that the base be moved outside the island prefecture.
Nakatani and David Shear, assistant U.S. secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, reached the agreement after the Japanese and prefectural governments last week accepted a court-mediated settlement to halt work related to the planned transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma and resume talks on the contentious relocation plan.
In a meeting in Tokyo, part of which was open to the media, Nakatani said Japan upholds a plan to achieve the return of land occupied by the Futenma base from the United States as early as possible.
“We would like to continue close coordination and consultation with the United States” on the matter, he said.
Citing the severe security environment surrounding Japan such as China’s growing territorial ambitions in the East China Sea and North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons developments, Nakatani pledged to “firmly maintain” the Japan-U.S. alliance for the sake of regional peace.
Shear said the United States understands that the Japanese government made its decision for the settlement with the government after careful consideration, and that Washington wants to consult closely with Tokyo to advance the planned base relocation.
Shear said the threat posed by North Korea is increasing and that Washington wants to work closely with Tokyo in how it deals with the situation.
On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the state will suspend reclamation work to build a replacement facility in the less populated Henoko district of Nago.
The central and governments will now hold a new round of talks toward an “amicable settlement,” Abe said, though stressing that the plan to move the base to Henoko from a crowded residential area of Ginowan remains unchanged.
The relocation of the Futenma base is a key part of a broader bilateral agreement to realign the U.S. military forces in Japan.