The central government and the Okinawa Prefectural Government are now in an apparent cold war.
Despite repeated visits and requests from Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Ongata, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have refused to meet the governor, who was elected in November by opposing Abe’s plan to keep U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.
Onaga came to Tokyo again Friday to request a meeting with either one, but both turned him down, citing their tight schedules.
It was the third time Onaga had been rebuffed since his inauguration, according to the Okinawa Prefectural Government.
Onaga won election by defeating then-Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who had backed Abe’s relocation plan by greenlighting a landfill project needed to build the replacement strip for the Futenma base in the Henoko district of Nago, further north on Okinawa.
The timing was no doubt uncomfortable for Abe and Suga. On Friday, the governor had launched a six-member, third-party panel to examine whether Nakaima’s decision to approve the reclamation project was legally sound.
Onaga has vowed to cancel the project if he finds any legal errors in the procedures followed by Nakaima and the central government.
Onaga was accompanied by other Okinawa leaders when came to the capital Friday to submit a petition demanding that the central government reduce the U.S. military presence in the tiny island prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
He was only allowed to see Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita.
Asked about the panel launched by Onaga, Suga on Friday said the central government will forge ahead with the reclamation work no matter what the panel concludes.
“The reclamation was approved (in 2013) by then Okinawa Gov. (Nakaima) . . . We will just steadily continue the work,” Suga said at a regular news conference Friday afternoon.
Later the day, a high-ranking official hinted that Suga would not have met Onaga on Friday even if he had the time.
“When an appropriate time comes, (Suga) will meet the governor,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Futenma relocation project has been delayed by fierce opposition from Okinawa residents and the Democratic Party of Japan-led government’s failure in 2010 to find alternative sites outside the prefecture.
Anti-military sentiment remains strong in Okinawa, where some of the fiercest fighting took place in the closing days of World War II. Many residents are opposed to expanding the number of U.S. bases there.
In 1996 Tokyo and Washington agreed to relocate the Futenma base because it sits in a densely populated section of Ginowan, posing potential safety hazards and noise pollution.
In 1999, the central government decided to build an alternative facility in Nago after the mayor expressed a willingness to host it.