In an escalation of his battle with the central government, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga suggested Monday he may revoke earlier permission for the destruction of reefs in the course of land reclamation for the replacement base for the Futenma airfield.
Speaking at a news conference in the prefectural capital of Naha, Onaga said he has requested the Okinawa Defense Bureau to suspend “any act that changes the status quo of the seabed” and warned he may revoke the permission unless the bureau stops the work within a week.
Site preparation so far has included dropping huge concrete blocks onto the seabed weighing 15 to 45 tons, which will anchor buoys demarcating the construction zone.
Local media reported that some of the blocks appeared to have crushed coral growths.
At his news conference, Onaga demanded that the central government halt the work within a week so that the prefectural government can check out the reports.
An Okinawa official reached by phone told The Japan Times that Onaga was asked at the news conference whether he would revoke permission.
“I’ve already made up my mind,” Onaga replied, according to the official.
The remark was widely interpreted as meaning he will annul the permit if Tokyo continues with the construction work without pausing to assess the possible coral damage.
The central government appears likely to ignore it. Also Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo that the government will not stop any part of its construction work in Henoko, including an ongoing drilling survey, whatever actions the Okinawa Prefectural Government might take.
“We will just calmly go ahead with the work,” Suga told his regularly scheduled news conference.
Rejecting Onaga’s demand will put the two sides on a collision course and is likely to prompt Okinawa to file a lawsuit against Tokyo.
A legal battle could polarize public opinion and bring about potentially greater political costs for the central government if it ignores Okinawan demands, where many have called for a reduction in the U.S. military presence.
Suga said the central government positioned the anchor blocks after securing permission from the prefectural government through prior close consultations.
The consultations took place while Hirokazu Nakaima, Onaga’s predecessor, was still governor.
Suga said the action was not done unilaterally.
“We gained permission after consulting with the prefectural government,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Seidai Nakada, a prefectural official in the fishery section, alleged that the central government had not told the prefectural government the buoy-tethering blocks would be so heavy and that they might destroy coral.
“We didn’t know anything about the anchors of, say, 20 or 45 tons,” Nakada told The Japan Times.
Onaga knocked Nakaima out as governor in November, after Nakaima had given permission for Tokyo to destroy reefs and carry out landfill in the sea off Henoko.
Onaga, a steadfast opponent of the Futenma relocation plan, has pledged to review the legal procedures Nakaima took in permitting the landfill, to check for mistakes.
Prefectural governments have the power to permit or reject landfill. Nakaima agreed to the project after the central government pledged huge economic development funds for the prefecture.
Many Okinawans fear the construction of the base in Henoko will strengthen the U.S. military’s footing in the prefecture, where anti-military sentiment remains strong because of memories of the harsh fighting there in the closing days of World War II.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to further strengthen the military alliance with the United States and has attached great importance to building the replacement base.
Futenma air station is located in a densely populated area of Ginowan.
Locals have long called for the closure of the base and its relocation outside the prefecture, citing the risk of possible accidents and the noise from U.S. military aircraft.
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