The Okinawa base move has been delayed for more than two years. The Marine Corps air station base has faced a lot of controversy because of its relocation from the densely populated area to the island’s northern recesses, according to Japan Today.
Units from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan will now likely be relocated to Camp Schwab at Henoko in 2025 or later. Futenma had been slated for closure and reversion to Japanese control by 2023.
The comments by Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, came Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Harris did not say what was causing the delay; however, it likely is the result of a small but formidable protest movement that wants U.S. forces off Okinawa altogether.
The Japanese government is building the air station as the Okinawa base move has been delayed by two years, which will extend over the water from another Marine Corps base near the town of Henoko. Survey work for the new facility is underway, but Japan suspended it for about two months last year in an unsuccessful attempt to work out a compromise with the Okinawan government.
“The challenge we have is — to get the build done on the Futenma replacement facility, which is Japan’s responsibility,” Harris told the committee. “That’s their obligation to us. Right now, it’s slowed. It’s a little over two years late.”
Aircraft must continue to fly out of Futenma in the meantime, Harris said. The U.S. will continue to work with Japan to complete the project, which began in 2014 with seabed drilling for a new runway into Oura Bay.
The 2014 election of an anti-base Gov. Takeshi Onaga further complicated the plan and emboldened protesters. After Tokyo vowed to follow through with construction despite the opposition, the process has devolved into a flurry of lawsuits between local and central governments.
Construction continues despite pending court rulings. Harris’ comments came during a hearing on the posture of U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Forces Korea.
The U.S. has agreed to shift 8,000 to 10,000 Marines off Okinawa in the 2020s, mainly to Guam and Hawaii, but Harris said that would happen as “a follow-on” to the move from Futenma to Henoko.
“We have an obligation to defend Japan, and they have an obligation to provide us a place from which to defend them,” he said. “And Okinawa is one of those critical places where we must be in order to meet our treaty obligations to defend Japan.”
The U.S. and Japan agreed to the Okinawa base move from crowded Ginowan city to reduce the burden of the heavy U.S. military presence on local residents. Opponents want the base moved off Okinawa entirely.