GUAM – Japan’s Defense Minister moved quickly to discipline his bureau chief in Okinawa for a careless comment allegedly made Monday that hurt the government’s efforts to foster understanding among local residents for the U.S.-Japan plan to relocate a Marine air base on the island’s fragile eastern coast.

Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa held a press conference Tuesday evening to announce he has replaced Satoshi Tanaka as chief of the ministry’s Okinawa bureau and apologized to the Okinawan people. Mr. Satoshi reportedly likened the government’s environmental proceedings to the rape of a woman during a drinking session with reporters on Monday.

“This is a very serious issue that could destroy the trust we’ve tried very hard to build up with Okinawa Prefecture and Okinawan people,” Mr. Ichikawa said. “I sincerely apologize,” he said according to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun.

The ministry sent its vice minister to the island prefecture on Wednesday to apologize to Okinawa’s governor, who has been adamantly opposed to the new base and whose approval for coastal land reclamation is required before construction of the new air base can proceed.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also apologized on Wednesday, but reiterated his aim to complete the environmental study this year.

The new air base would replace the current one in Futenma and underpins a massive troop realignment plan that includes transferring some Okinawa-based Marines to Guam. The replacement facility and the dispersal of some troops to Guam would allow the United States to close a controversial Marine base in Okinawa’s crowded Futenma region and reduce the military’s footprint in the prefecture.


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Photo used in this article courtesy U.S. Department of Defense.  Photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey