NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said Friday that he had asked local officials to start procedures for retracting his predecessor’s approval of landfill work needed to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Nago from Ginowan.
The order from Onaga, whose term expires in November, is seen as a last-ditch resort to block the central government’s long-delayed plan to move the unpopular base as agreed to decades ago with the United States.
“I will take whatever measures and make utmost efforts in realizing my election pledge of preventing the construction of a new base,” the governor said at a news conference. The replacement base is to be built in Henoko, a coastal area in Nago.
He accused Tokyo of not presenting measures to protect the environment of the coastal area and of failing to fulfill the conditions required for approval.
The landfill work was scheduled to begin on Aug. 17 at the earliest, after the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau completed seawalls earlier this month as part of preparations for bringing soil to the site.
Many residents in Okinawa fiercely oppose the relocation plan and want the base removed from the prefecture altogether.
Okinawa will hold a gubernatorial election in November, but Onaga recently underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer and has not clarified whether he will run.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the central government has no changes in mind regarding the plan.
“Our intent to proceed with the relocation construction is unchanged,” Suga government’s top spokesman told a news conference.
Suga and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tokyo will respond “appropriately” to Okinawa’s decision.
The Okinawa Defense Bureau is expected to counter the governor’s retraction attempt, possibly by filing a lawsuit.
Both sides have already fought a number of times in court. Tokyo believes the base is necessary for Japan to maintain the perceived deterrence provided by the United States, but many in Okinawa regard it as an unfair burden because the island hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
In October 2015, Onaga revoked predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima’s 2013 approval of Tokyo’s request for landfill work in Nago, saying it was legally flawed. But the Supreme Court ruled against Onaga’s position in December 2016, allowing the central government to resume construction.