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article imageOkinawa governor stops work on U.S. air base

By Ken Hanly     Mar 24, 2015 in Politics
Naha - Governor Takeshi Onaga of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa has ordered a branch of the Defense Ministry to suspend all work in an area where a key U.S. military air base was to be relocated.
Onaga claimed that an anchor of concrete thrown in the sea as part of a drilling survey is thought to have damaged part of a coral reef. The governor who had preceded Onaga changed his position on the relocation and supported the agreement between the US and Japanese government for the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
At a news conference, Onaga said that the use of concrete blocks had not been authorized and that damage had to be assessed. He also demanded that the Defense Bureau cease all activity relating to the relocation or lose its license for the drilling work. This could put the entire project on hold. In November last year Onaga won the governorship from Hirokazu Nakaima who had supported the transfer. Onaga campaigned against the base relocation. Opponents of the relocation claim that the proposed replacement of Futema, a V shaped runway on reclaimed land would threaten the safety of local residents and destroy the sensitive marine ecosystem. Onaga also complained that the Japanese central government has not made a sufficient effort to appreciate Okinawa's understanding of the relocation and he urged that the Defense Bureau take the order seriously. It was unclear whether the Defense Bureau would obey his order.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that while officials were studying the suspension order, the survey should proceed in spite of the order. He said: "I don't see any reason why we should halt the operation. This is a law-abiding nation. It is extremely regrettable that (Onaga) submitted the document (ordering the suspension) at this stage." US State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, also said that the US understood that construction would go ahead as planned.
Futenma is currently located in a densely populated part of the island and the projected move was meant to allay safety and other concerns at the present location. Many Okinawans want Futenma gone completely off the island. The underwater drilling had been halted before last November's election, apparently to avoid controversy that might hurt the incumbent governor. He lost in any event to Onaga.
The relocation plan was agreed to back in 1996 but has been continually stalled by protests. There are about 50,000 US troops located in Japan and almost half are in Okinawa.. The relocated Futenma airstrip would be just across another US base Camp Schwab. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has forged a strong military alliance with the US, relying on it to counter the rise of China and North Korea's threats.
Okinawa was the site of fierce battles between the US and Japanese during the Second World War. The US occupied Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands until June 1972 but there is still a huge US presence on the islands: There are 32 U.S. military bases[14] located on Okinawa Island. In total, these bases occupy approximately 20% of the island's area, but the footprint is far greater than this statistic implies as core urban areas continue to be fragmented by the bases, which have severe environmental contamination issues and heavily disturb and disrupt urban life... The bases primarily exist to serve Japanese and US strategic interests, but are unpopular with most local residents[16] despite recent efforts to move the bases out of core areas following incidents involving military personnel and resultant protests (including 1995 Okinawa rape incident).
The economic importance of these bases has lessened over time especially since the return of Japanese sovereignty. Many locals think that the bases actually hamper tourism and investment in the islands. In 2012 the US agreed to reduce the number of troops on the island by 9,000. While there are attempts to close bases in the heavily urbanized area near greater Naha the capital, many islanders do not approve of relocation but want troops off the island. There are also a small number of Japanese bases on the island. They are not viewed favourably either but considered as part of Japanese efforts to colonize Okinawa. This is not too surprising, since whether it is the Americans or the Japanese both seem more concerned about their own interests rather than the welfare and interests of the island inhabitants. As you can see from the enclosed video, Russian TV finds it worth while to cover the protests at Camp Schwab. The new Futenma base would be adjacent to that camp.
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