TOKYO–The Okinawan chapter of Japan’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday started constructing seawalls to surround an area in a coastal region on the island for the controversial relocation of a US military base amid uproar from local residents.
The Okinawa Defense Bureau launched full-scale operations to build seawalls around a site to be filled with sand and earth that will prevent sediment spreading.
The land reclamation work and future construction is to facilitate the relocation of the US Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma.
The Futenma base is currently located in a densely- populated area of Ginowan in Okinawa and will be relocated to the coastal area of Henoko in Nago City, as per the central government’s plans despite resolute local opposition.
The Defense Bureau’s new phase of construction Tuesday follows maritime reclamation work in February involving dropping concrete blocks into the sea off the coast of Henoko from vessels equipped with large cranes.
The vessels dropped 220 blocks, each weighing 14 tons to form barriers in four areas in the sea where the seawalls will be built.
The construction work has drawn staunch criticism from local residents as well as officials in Okinawa, and protests to the reclamation work have been frequent.
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga is a staunch opponent to the base’s relocation and has been fighting doggedly to see the plan scrapped and the new base built outside of Okinawa or Japan, and has sued and been counter-sued by the central government.
In February, Onaga visited the United States in person to convey his message of resistance to US President Donald Trump.
Onaga may now look to block the central government’s reclamation work by refusing to issue a permit necessary for coral reefs to be moved in the area in which land is being reclaimed from, informed sources have said.
The Okinawa governor has floated numerous other ways he can block the central government’s plans and protect the lives of Okinawans, including not approving any changes in the construction design of the new base, which involves a V-shaped runway being built on the reclaimed land.
The fact that the waters that the central government is planning to reclaim for construction of the base are home to the endangered dugong, which is a large marine mammal and cousin of the manatee, has also been mentioned as additional armament for Okinawan officials to use against the central government to try and block or impede its base-building plans.
The central government, however, has maintained its stance that the relocation plan remains the only way forward in line with a pact with the United States under its broader security alliance.
The protracted contentions have seen anti-US base sentiment in Japan’s southernmost prefecture rise, with regular demonstrations comprising thousands of locals calling for the controversial Futenma base to be relocated off the island and not to the coastal Henoko region.
At the end of last month the “prefectural people’s rally calling for immediate cancellation of unlawful land reclamation work and abandonment of the plan to build a new base in Henoko,” organized by the All Okinawa Coalition to Prevent Construction of a New Base in Henoko, was held in front of the gate to the US military’s Camp Schwab.
The demonstration saw the participation of around 3,500 people, the organizers said.
Onaga attended the rally and stated that with all his strength he would absolutely revoke the approval to reclaim land off the shore of Henoko.
The islanders feel they have, to date, been “used” by the central government before, during and after WWII, with protests at hosting 74 percent of all US bases in Japan further intensifying following the the crash-landing of an MV-22 Osprey in Nago in Okinawa in December last year.
The controversial tilt-rotor aircraft is known internationally for its checkered safety history and widely loathed by Okinawan residents and officials.