NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The central government on Tuesday resumed construction work suspended since March at the replacement site in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, for the U.S. Futenma base.
The move came a day after Gov. Takeshi Onaga rescinded an action aimed at blocking the work following his recent defeat at the Supreme Court over the relocation plan.
Tensions remained high between Tokyo and Okinawa, with Onaga calling for consultations with the central government prior to the resumption of the relocation work and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rejecting the idea.
“We have no choice but to take a hard-line approach,” Onaga was quoted as telling Suga when they met Tuesday in Tokyo. Suga said he told Onaga the central government will proceed with the land reclamation work necessary to transfer Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area in Nago.
“I told the governor that our country is ruled by law and the (central) government will comply with the finalized court ruling,” Suga said at a regularly scheduled news conference after his meeting with Onaga.
Onaga’s predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, in 2013 approved the central government’s request for landfill work in Nago. But Onaga, who was elected in 2014 on a pledge to oppose the relocation of Futenma within Okinawa, revoked the approval in October 2015.
After decades of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, many people in Okinawa want Futenma’s functions moved outside the prefecture. They are frustrated with noise, crime and accidents linked to the U.S. bases, and safety concerns were renewed in the wake of a Dec. 13 crash landing of a U.S. Marines Osprey aircraft off Nago.
The central government has maintained that the relocation plan, crafted under an accord with the United States, is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by Futenma, which is located close to schools and homes, without undermining the perceived deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.
A legal fight between the central government and Okinawa began following Onaga’s revocation and it ended last week with the Supreme Court ruling against his position.
The governor took steps to rescind his revocation Monday, which formally became effective Tuesday. But the standoff over the relocation plan is likely to drag on, with Onaga vowing to do everything he can to thwart the project through other means.
About 250 people held a protest near the construction site in Henoko.
“If we remain silent, it means we are accepting the plan,” 63-year-old Okinawa resident Tsugiyoshi Inafuku said as he joined the protest. “We will continue to voice our anger.”