Spotlight: Okinawa refuses to kowtow to Japan central gov't's plans to shift U.S. base

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-22 19:39:22|Editor: xuxin
Video PlayerClose

TOKYO, March 22 (Xinhua) -- The Okinawa prefectural government on Friday filed a new lawsuit against the central government to retract approval given for landfill work for the relocation of a controversial U.S. base with Japan's southernmost prefecture.

The landfill work, which is vehemently opposed by the Okinawa government and the people, is part of the central government's plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to the pristine coastal area of Henoko, also in Okinawa.

The lawsuit was filed with the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court and seeks for the cancellation of the land ministry's reversal in October of Okinawa retracting a permit given for the central government to proceed with the land reclamation work.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, a staunch opponent to the base move, in talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Tuesday, insisted that the landfill work be suspended, in the latest indication he and the people of Okinawa will not kowtow to the central government's plans made in cahoots with the United States to move the base.

He maintained that more time was needed to negotiate the sensitive situation following the majority of local citizens in Okinawa, in a national referendum held recently, voting against the relocation plan.

Despite the contrary stance of the Okinawa prefectural government and citizens in Japan's southernmost prefecture, the central government said it will forge ahead with the land reclamation work regardless, but that it was "open" to more dialogue on the situation.

Reclamation work, involving the dumping of large boulders, sand and sediment into pristine waters off Henoko, may restart as early as Monday, the central government indicated.

"I want to take seriously the feelings of the people in the prefecture, but we must avoid the Futenma base remaining in its current place," Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Friday, adding that he was disappointed that Okinawa had filed a fresh lawsuit.

The overall plans for the new base involve 157 hectares of land being reclaimed from immaculate waters off the Henoko area and the building of a V-shaped runway.

Officials in Okinawa have stated that the reclamation work runs contrary to the National Biodiversity Strategy of Japan as it is damaging an ecosystem unique to the region.

Environmentalists have also voiced concerns about the materials used for the reclamation work introducing invasive species to the region.

The waters of Oura Bay are, in addition, the last home of the highly-endangered Japanese dugong, which is a large marine mammal and cousin of the manatee. Environmentalists are certain of the species' extinction if the central government's construction continues.

One of the endangered dugong was found dead earlier this week by fishermen in Okinawa, local media reported.

The mammal, which has been designated as a national treasure, has been listed as being "critically endangered" by the Environment Ministry.

Only a few of them are thought to still exist, according to a local probe, in waters which include its habitat off Henoko, that will disappear under the central government's planned land reclamation work.

Prefectural authorities in Okinawa have also claimed that the base-linked construction work legally infringes on the rights granted to local fishermen in the coastal region.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, yet the tiny sub-tropical island accounts for just a small fraction of Japan's total landmass.

The local people in Okinawa have, for decades, been victims of U.S. base-linked workers' criminal activities, which span minor disorderly offenses such as driving under the influence of alcohol, to heinous instances of rape and murder.

They have also been forced to put up with a steady flow of accidents and mishaps involving U.S. military aircraft.

Anti-U.S. sentiment has been rising on the island of late, with locals insisting that the central government pay heed to the results of the referendum and move the base out of Okinawa and Japan altogether.