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Okinawa governor retracts decision blocking U.S. Futenma base relocation

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Monday rescinded an action aimed at blocking the relocation of the Futenma air base within the prefecture, a step crucial to enabling the central government to resume construction work, sources close to the matter said.

Onaga’s decision follows his recent defeat in a lawsuit filed by the central government over the plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

The Supreme Court ruled last Tuesday that Onaga’s revocation of approval for land reclamation work was illegal.

The approval, originally granted by Onaga’s predecessor as governor, is required to build the runways in the new base, and will take effect only after documents reach the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau, the sources said.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference that the central government is “making necessary preparations” to resume the reclamation-related work. The work, which has been suspended since earlier this year, may resume Tuesday or Wednesday, the sources said.

Suga said he will meet Onaga in Tokyo on Tuesday for talks on the draft budget for fiscal 2017 that was approved by the Cabinet last week, which includes funds to support Okinawa’s development.

Onaga’s predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, approved the central government’s request for landfill work in the coastal area of Nago in 2013. But Onaga, who was elected in 2014 on a pledge to oppose the Futenma relocation within Okinawa, revoked the approval in October 2015.

Legal wrangling between the central and local governments ensued, and the relocation work in the Henoko coastal area was suspended in March. The dispute eventually led to last Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling against the governor’s move.

The standoff over the Futenma relocation is likely to continue, however, as Onaga has vowed to continue to do his utmost to thwart the project through other means.

Tensions between Okinawa and the central government have grown in recent years, with many of the prefecture’s 1.4 million residents resenting the burden of hosting the U.S. military. Even so, an independence movement has so far failed to gain momentum. A poll conducted by the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper in May 2015 found that two-thirds favored the status quo, while 21 percent said they wanted more self-determination as a Japanese region. Just over 8 percent said they were pro-independence.