Despite strong opposition from locals, Japan’s central government initiated main reclamation work Friday at a United States military base relocation site on the southern island of Okinawa.
Earlier this month, the Fukuoka High Court rejected the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s demand to stop the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the island prefecture, Japan Times reports.
The highly contested plan involves building a V-shape runway for a Marine Corps base on the landfill for a targeted completion in 2022. Persistent protests against it have previously kept the plan from being implemented.
With the local government’s appeal dismissed, the central government’s bid to continue construction work on a new air facility is now permitted to commence. The decision by the higher court effectively reversed Okinawa’s earlier ban on landfill work at the site.
A truckload of sediment has been dumped and bulldozed into the sea at Henoko on Okinawa’s east coast for the proposed runway, according to the Associated Press. Opponents of the move have lamented how local wishes to remove the base were blatantly ignored.
“I resent it strongly,” Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki was quoted as saying. “The central government is forcibly dumping the sediment into the sea and it does not even pay the slightest attention to the will of the Okinawan people.”
Tamaki, who has made multiple visits to Tokyo to urge members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet to engage in dialogue and postpone the landfill work, called the recent high court decision “illegal.”
Tamaki visited Washington and New York last month to rally support for Okinawa from the American public and officials.
About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops currently in Japan are on Okinawa. Locals have long been complaining about base-related noise, pollution and crime.
Okinawa residents have expressed that they are already burdened by the presence of so many U.S. soldiers on the island. Now, they want the existing Futenma air station closed and its replacement entirely moved off the island.
Tokyo stated that they are sticking with the Henoko plan despite protests, claiming it is the only feasible option.
“In order to maintain the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance and to remove the risk of the Futenma air station, its relocation to Henoko is the only solution,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to the press on Friday.
Opposing politicians in Japan also criticized Abe’s government for pushing through with the base relocation amid the locals’ being against it.
“This is far from democracy,” senior opposition lawmaker Tetsuro Fukuyama said. “The Abe government has no compassion for Okinawa, or respect for the rule of law or respect for the will of the people.”
Okinawans, who have long expressed the feeling that they are being sacrificed for the mainland, have reportedly developed ill feelings toward the central government.
Many of those opposed to the project are concerned with the disastrous effects it will cause to the Okinawa Islands, one of the last five blue zones on the planet. Advocates for halting the construction of the base also launched a petition to convince the Trump administration to act on behalf of Okinawans.
“President Trump: Please STOP the landfill work in Okinawa until a democratic referendum can be held. Earlier this year the Okinawan people overwhelmingly elected Gov. Denny Tamaki on the premise of STOPPING the construction at Henoko / Oura Bay. The Bay is a CRUCIAL part of the Okinawan ecosystem. However, the Japanese government & U.S. military have so far IGNORED the democratic will of Gov. Tamaki & the Okinawan people. The irreversible part of the construction is set to begin on Dec. 14 (JST). If this is allowed it will surely incur strong anti-U.S. sentiment among Okinawans & will forever strain U.S.-Okinawa relations. Please order a HALT to the construction & ensure that democracy prevails. Please show Okinawans that America is indeed an honorable and GREAT nation.”
The petition, which exceeded the goal of 100,000 signatures, is aimed directly at President Trump in a desperate call for his intervention on the matter. Petitioners are using #StandWithOkinawa hashtag to drum up support on social media.
Washington has so far indicated that the issue must be resolved between Tokyo and Okinawa.
Featured Image via YouTube / Al Jazeera