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The governor of Okinawa in Japan has approved a controversial plan to move a U.S. military base to another area on the island, stressing that he will push for the base to move off the island all together eventually.
Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said on Friday that he has approved a plan to move the base from Futenma to a more isolated part of the island, reports USA Today. The decision comes as the U.S. is trying to “rebalance” its forces in the Pacific as tension with China rises. “The realignment effort is absolutely critical to the United States' ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today, welcoming Nakaima’s decision.
The plan is supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese government as well. According to Reuters, Abe has been pushing for a stronger military and closer ties with the U.S. military.
The U.S. and Japan first agreed to move the Okinawa base back in 1996, but opposition stalled the plan. Many residents of the island oppose U.S. forces being located there, as they see it as polluting the island and bringing crime and noise with it.
In his statement, Hagel said that the Pentagon “remains committed to working with the government of Japan to build a strong and sustainable U.S. military presence with less impact on the people of Okinawa.”
It’s still not clear when the base in Futenma would be moved, as Nakaima noted how it could take years for a new base to be completed.
Abe made headlines earlier this week by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, angering South Korea and China, since the shrine honors convicted war criminals.