US airbase in Okinawa to be relocated

US airbase in Okinawa to be relocated
Defence Minister Gen Nakatani, left, shakes hands with his US counterpart Ashton Carter at a joint press conference in the Defence Ministry on Wednesday.

Defence Minister Gen Nakatani and US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter agreed on Wednesday that the Japanese and US governments will work together to steadily implement the relocation of the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture as planned.

During their meeting at the Defence Ministry, Nakatani and Carter also affirmed that Japan and the United States will hold a meeting of the Japan-US Security Consultative Committee, also known as two-plus-two security talks, involving foreign and defence ministers from both countries, just before the Japan-US summit meeting scheduled for April 28 to draw up a new version of the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation.

Nakatani and Carter also affirmed that they will oppose any attempt to change the status quo by force in the East China Sea and elsewhere, apparently with China in mind.

Carter is visiting Japan for the first time since becoming defence secretary in February. It was the first time for Nakatani and Carter to hold a meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, Nakatani expressed eagerness to review the guidelines at an early date, saying, "It's a historic effort to make the Japan-US alliance stronger than ever before, and work is on course to complete the review." He also said he wants to make the Japan-US alliance develop into "seamless co-operation."

Carter was quoted as saying, "I look forward to welcoming you in Washington shortly along with the foreign minister as part of the two-plus-two."

"Your timing of the work on the guidelines here in Japan could not be better," he said. He added the review of the guidelines will give first of all Japan, but also the Japan-US alliance, "much greater scope to provide security in the region, for that matter elsewhere outside of the region."

The United States is reportedly concerned over the progress in the relocation of the Futenma base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago in the same prefecture amid objections from the Okinawa prefectural government.

In consideration of the US concern, Nakatani said: "We will steadily implement the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to maintain deterrence and reduce the burden of Okinawa in hosting bases based on an agreement reached during the two-plus-two talks in 2013. It is also part of the US rebalancing policy and very important."

Referring to the realignment of US forces, Carter said it is "another very important step towards continuing the work of our alliance together."

According to a senior Defence Ministry official, Nakatani and Carter also exchanged views on the regional situation and agreed that Japan, the United States and South Korea must co-operate.

At a joint press conference after the meeting, Nakatani said Carter and he "agreed to continue to actively proceed with work toward the completion of the review of the guidelines at an early date." Nakatani added that Japan and the United States will further strengthen the alliance through this work.

Nakatani also said Carter and he affirmed the two sides would strengthen co-operation in outer space and cyberspace, and had given instructions to discuss the establishment of a new working group of the Japanese and US defence authorities for the stable use of space.

Carter, meanwhile, said he told Nakatani that he will strongly oppose any unilateral coercive action that undermines Japan's administration of the Senkaku Islands.

He also said the new Japan-US defence co-operation guidelines will change the Japan-US alliance, and there will be more opportunities for US forces and the Self-Defence Forces to seamlessly co-operate.

Later on Wednesday, Carter met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and discussed the US bases in Okinawa Prefecture.

During the talks, Suga sought co-operation from Carter to reduce the burden on Okinawa Prefecture in hosting US bases, requesting the return of facilities and land south of Kadena Air Base in the prefecture earlier than planned.

The Japanese and US governments have agreed that five US military facilities and their precincts south of Kadena Air Base will be returned to Japan by 2030.

Carter also paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the afternoon.

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