Photo/IllutrationOkinawa Governor Denny Tamaki speaks at New York University in New York on Nov. 11. (Ryuichi Yamashita)

Intensive negotiations have begun between the central government and Okinawa Prefecture on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago.

The government must snap out of its blind belief in the relocation to Henoko as "the only solution" and seek a realistic alternative by heeding Okinawa's assertions.

Held at Okinawa's request, the talks will continue until the end of this month between Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita and Okinawa Vice Governor Kiichiro Jahana.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, who won the Sept. 30 gubernatorial election, is a staunch opponent of the relocation to Henoko. His landslide victory meant that the people of Okinawa had spoken loud and clear, which the central government could not ignore. We believe this was why the government decided to comply with Okinawa's request for the negotiations.

However, the government has declared that the work being done in Henoko will not be interrupted even while the talks are in progress. This is tantamount to saying, "We'll listen to what Okinawa has to say, but we won't change our policy."

This is no way to conduct meaningful talks.

While intensive negotiations were being held in 2015 between the central government and then-Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who died in August this year, the work being done in Henoko was suspended for one month.

Why, then, is the government not doing the same this time? The government has given no satisfactory explanation to date.

In late August, Okinawa retracted its earlier approval of land reclamation work in Henoko. But the central government deemed the retraction null and void, and resumed the work in early November.

Based on the provisions in the Administrative Complaint Review Law, the Defense Ministry had filed an appeal, and the land minister, a member of the central government, had examined the appeal and given its approval. The government's action was clearly in conflict with the spirit of the law, the purpose of which is to protect the interests of the people. The haste with which the government defied the spirit of this law can be explained by the fact that Okinawa will hold a prefectural referendum on the Henoko reclamation project in February next year. The central government's intent is believed to be to make as much progress in the project as possible by then to demoralize the project's opponents.

But it has now become difficult for the government to fill the reclamation site with soil and sand before the end of this year. The problem was caused by typhoon damage to the port from which the soil and sand are to be shipped, and repairs are not likely to be completed until next year.

This is all the more reason why it makes no sense for the government to rush the work now.

Nationwide, public opinion is beginning to swing in favor of calling for a review of the Futenma air base's relocation to Henoko. According to a poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun in October, 55 percent said the outcome of the Okinawa gubernatorial election rendered it "necessary" for the government to review its policy, as opposed to the 30 percent who said no review was necessary.

Back in April last year, when the Asahi conducted a poll on the relocation, the pro and con responses were close--36 percent in favor, 34 percent against. But the same poll, repeated in September this year, showed a reversal in public opinion, with 31 percent in favor as opposed to 45 percent against.

Tamaki, who is currently visiting the United States to convey the will of the people of Okinawa directly to Washington, stated during the Q&A session on Nov. 11 following his talk at New York University that he would "never give up dialogue," no matter how much pressure he comes under.

How is the Japanese government going to respond? The Henoko problem entails multiple issues, from Japan's relationship with the United States to local autonomy and democracy, all intermeshed in a complex tangle.

It is time for the government to finally face the problem with sincerity and engage in dialogue to unknot the tangle.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 13