TOKYO — A controversial plan to move a U.S. Marine Corps base within Okinawa in southern Japan has been pushed back by two years, America's top military official in the Pacific said.
Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said Tuesday that the shift of the Futenma air station to a less congested part of Okinawa island would not happen until 2025 because work on a new facility has been delayed.
"It's slowed," he told a congressional committee in Washington. "It's a little over two years late. ... Now we're looking at 2025 before that's done."
The project faces stiff opposition from both protesters and the Okinawan prefectural government.
The Japanese government is building the air station, 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 U.S. and Japan agreed to move the air station from crowded Ginowan city to reduce the burden of the heavy U.S. military presence on Okinawa residents.
Opponents want the base moved off Okinawa entirely.
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."