Japan resumes work on US base construction despite local opposition


Japan resumed work on the construction of a US military base on the south-western island of Okinawa Saturday, following a month of talks between Tokyo and island officials opposed to the plan that yielded no agreement on the controversial project.

The resumption prompted Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga to issue a statement, saying the move was “extremely regrettable.”

Onaga vowed to “take every possible step to block” the construction of facilities, which would replace the functions of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, which is located in a densely populated area of the island.

The governor has said he will announce a decision Monday to cancel his predecessor’s approval for landfill work off the eastern coast of Nago city, 1,600 kilometres south-west of Tokyo.

Onaga easily defeated Tokyo-backed incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima in the November gubernatorial election as more than 80 per cent of the islanders opposed the project.

Okinawans have long been critical of the US military presence on the island. Incidents of crime committed by US troops has only hardened opinions against the base.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government insists the current plan is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma air station without undermining the deterrence of the Japan-US alliance amid heightened military tensions in East Asia.

About 120 local residents staged a protest near the planned site in Nago on Saturday, the island’s Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper reported, while 22,000 people surrounded Japanese parliament in Tokyo, urging the government to protect the sea and give up the construction.

The government “denies democracy as they would not listen to the public,” Hiroshi Ashitomi, co-leader of a Nago-based citizens group which opposes the construction, told a crowd in Tokyo. “We are the ones who open the way to the future of Okinawa.”