Japan’s Okinawa island approved the long-stalled relocation of a controversial US military base, putting an end to a decades-long source of friction between Tokyo and Washington.
Local bureaucrats signed on Friday a document that gives the governor’s green light to a landfill, paving the way for the construction of a new base on the coast.
After years of staunch opposition, Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima, a bitter critic of the central government, accepted the relocation this week after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged an annual injection of 300 billion yen ($2.9bn) into the island’s economic stimulus budget until fiscal 2021.
Nakaima’s nod marks a breakthrough on an original 1996 agreement to shut the Futenma airbase, which is in a densely populated urban area.
According to the proposed packages, operations at Futenma is to be halted within five years and an early return of the land.
The United States affirmed in 2006 it would re-site the base on the coast, but the move has been stymied by opposition throughout Okinawa, which feels overburdened by its outsized share of the American military presence in Japan.
But local residents of the southern tropical island, which hosts around half of all the 47,000 military personnel in Japan, have already reacted furiously to the news, ahead of Nakaima’s announcement of the decision that is expected to be made at noon today.
The deal may help Abe undo some of Washington’s disappointment at his Thursday’s visit to the Yasukuni war shrine, seen as a symbol in northeast Asia of 20th century Japan’s brutal imperialism.
Abe, who did not visit the Yasukuni shrine during a previous stint as prime minister, returned to power in part by accusing a left-leaning government of jeopardising the US alliance through the feud over Futenma.