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People's Daily Online

Japanese gov't forced to suspend relocation work for U.S. base in Okinawa

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 20:59, August 10, 2015

TOKYO, Aug. 10 -- The Japanese government on Monday suspended all preparatory work for land reclamation and other construction plans connected to the relocation of a controversial U.S. airbase within the country's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that all work would be suspended for a period of at least one month to allow for officials from the central government and prefectural officials from Okinawa to exchange views on the contentious relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Station Futenma from a densely populated area in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko district of Nago, also on the island.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, a staunch opponent of the base' s move, along with the Nago municipal office, has planned to block the move, but following talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently, Onaga said that during the suspension of construction work, the prefectural government would put the brakes on their legal and legislative drive to block the land reclamation work.

Onaga said he hopes to convey to the central government the role Okinawa has played in the postwar years and express the citizens' views that the tiny island has suffered immeasurably, including with its disproportionate U.S. base-hosting burdens, and also wants to discuss how and why the Futenma base was first built and issues pertaining to U.S. deterrence.

Suga, having said he wishes to visit the island personally and hold talks with officials there, said the one-month period of suspension would enable both sides to hold extensive discussions on the stalled issue, hopefully leading to more understanding, following the "cooling off" period.

Five rounds of talks have been scheduled between both sides, with the first round scheduled to kick off Tuesday with Suga in attendance, who will address Onaga directly.

Onaga, for his part, said that during the deliberations, he will hold off on a move to repeal approval for landfill work based on a legal flaw found in the approval process originally given in December 2013 by his predecessor, former Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.

Approval for the landfill work granted by Nakaima was found to be flawed by a third-party prefectural panel and Onaga, who has previously expressed his "strong resentment" towards Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama's renewed resolve to forge ahead with the unpopular base move despite the mounting local opposition, could force the central government to take the case to court and try to argue that the correct measures were mandated to protect the local environment of Nago's pristine Henoko coastal region, the site of the new base.

Court action would ensure that the central government will not be able to proceed with its plans to relocate the base, fortifying the southernmost prefecture's campaign against the move and, even if the flaws are revoked, will significantly delay if not derail the central government's unpopular plans.

Sources close to the matter said Monday that Onaga's unwavering commitment to blocking the base's relocation has forced the central government to the negotiating table to see if some kind of settlement or compromise can be reached.

But the prefectural assembly in Okinawa, as it continues to fortify itself with growing public opposition and legislative blockades, has passed an ordinance that will govern the use of soil transported from outside the southern island prefecture and potentially prevent non-indigenous soil from being used in landfill work necessary for the preparation of the coastal Henoko site to accommodate the construction of a replacement facility for the base.

The local assembly's move reflects the sentiments of the majority of the prefecture's officials, as well as the island's citizens, who are unreservedly opposed to the base's relocation within the prefecture and wish to see the base moved off the island, or out of Japan entirely, to reduce the tiny island's over- bearing U.S. base-hosting burdens.

The new injunction, which could come into effect as early as November, will require contractors bringing in soil from outside Okinawa to report the specifics of the earth to local officials, such as its origins and composition, and what has been described by local media as "countermeasures against alien species," two months in advance of its planned transportation.

While the central government has earmarked plans to purchase more than 20 million square meters of soil from prefectures around the mainland, as well as from the island itself, Okinawans and a growing number of citizens from the mainland have taken to the streets to voice their disapproval.

On Monday local citizens gathered to protest the relocation of the base in front of the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab, which is located close to the planned relocation site on the coast of Henoko.

Demonstrators persistently claim that Okinawa and its people made disproportionate sacrifices during World War II and in the years after, compared to the mainland, and, as such, the added burden of relocating the base is hugely inappropriate and wholly unacceptable.

Ties between Tokyo and Washington could become further strained over the issue as polls show that Abe has failed to sufficiently explain and gain the support of Onaga and the people of Okinawa on the issue.

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