The Japanese government is planning to start construction of a facility for the relocation of the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base in Nago, Okinawa, sometime in the autumn.
Refill work is expected to begin ahead of an expected Okinawan gubernatorial election in November. The original plan called for work to begin in 2015.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen to make progress on the project as he seeks a tighter relationship with the United States in the face of an assertive China.
Last December, Okinawan Governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved a plan to move Futenma's functions from a populous part of central Okinawa to Nago's coastal Henoko area. It was a reversal of his long-held position that the air base should be moved out of the prefecture.
However, the plan still faces local opposition. Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, a staunch opponent of the relocation, was re-elected in January, defeating an opponent who backed the project and ran with the strong support of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Afterhis re-election, Inamine said the plan must go back to square one and that he would reject all procedures that are premised on the landfill project.
Delays in relocating the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base, a move first agreed between Tokyo and Washington in 1996, have long been an irritant in U.S.-Japan ties.
Seeking to soothe discontent, The central government has earmarked 348 billion yen for Okinawa's economic development in the draft budget for the year from April and pledged about 300 billion yen per year through 2021/22.© Japan Today/Reuters