Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima has been catching some flak for allegedly turning his back on his reelection campaign promise to seek relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma (MCAS) outside of Okinawa. I wrote the following memo to clarify my understanding of the situation. (Unedited, excepting the deletion of a reference to an Okinawan official to avoid any possible misunderstanding that the official might be supportive of my assessment.) As you can see by comparison with my comment here, I have moderated my snap-reaction assessment of the effect of a victory for the anti-base incumbent in the Nago mayoral election in January on further reflection.
Nakaima's top priority is to close the Futenma Base as soon as possible.
To that end, he is willing to accept the relocation to Henoko. However, political circumstances compelled him to switch his position to (by any reasonable interpretation permanent) relocation outside of Okinawa when he successfully sought relection.
Deterioration in the security environment directly affecting Okinawa provided the backdrop against which the pro-Nakaima Abe/LDP administration was able to convince Nakaima to reverse his opportunistic opposition to the Henoko solution, lubricating the move with inducements consisting mostly of acceleration and other improvements regarding the overall rearrangement as well as a significant amount of fiscal incentives.
In order to push back against the politically damaging charge that he has gone back on his campaign promise, he inserted the possibility of a temporary shift and is claiming that it would nevertheless qualify as relocation. It is a piece of sophistry that is not that surprising coming from a national civil service alumnus.
So Nakaima is de facto committed to a package that accelerates the closing of Futenma and transfers the helicopters/Ospreys there to Henko, though he will not say so in those explicit terms.
What happens between now and the eventual outcome, though, is very much contigent on the kind of arrangement that the Abe and subsequent administrations work out with the US side and local governments and communities within Japan. Moreover, the eventual schedule on the ground at Henoko will depend to a significant extent on the outcome of Nago's mayoral election in January. The municipal government reportedly can put some administrative obstacles in from of the propective base. For example, it could deny extension of the local water supply system. A lawsuit would eventually take care of that, but it could add significant time before the Henoko base is finally up and running.