Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin in a telephone conversation with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi discussed the relocation of a U.S. air base on the island of Okinawa, according to a statement by U.S. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby released January 23.
It is noted that as part of the talks, the ministers exchanged views on security issues in the Indo-Pacific region and the readiness of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“They also discussed the need to continue U.S. military regrouping initiatives, including ongoing efforts to build a facility at Henoko to replace Futemma Base,” the text said.
In December 2019, it was reported that the process of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futemma Air Base from the heavily populated Ginowan area to Henoko Bay in northern Okinawa Prefecture could last more than 10 years.
In February of the same year, a referendum was held in Okinawa in which local residents voted against keeping the air base within the prefecture and moving it to Henoko Bay.
In 1999, Japan and the United States reached an agreement to move the air base from the densely populated city of Ginowan, where frequent U.S. helicopter flights posed a threat to local residents, to the northern area of Henoko. The facility was planned to be partially located on bulk islands.
Okinawa authorities did not agree to this decision until 2013, but two years later the decision was reversed by the then acting regional head, Takeshi Onaga, demanding that the base be moved out of the region. Subsequent heads of the region have also opposed the presence of the facility within the region’s boundaries.