What's the big rush? One cannot help but wonder why the central government so hastily resumed suspended reclamation work off the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, as part of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the prefectural city of Ginowan.
The move comes only a week after the Supreme Court ruled that the Okinawa governor's revocation of permission issued by his predecessor for the reclamation work was illegal.
The prefectural government is poised to exercise all authority at its disposal to block the relocation of the base within the prefecture. It is feared that tensions in relations between the national and prefectural governments will heighten further over the issue.
Following the top court decision, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga sent a notice to the central government retracting his revocation of permission for the reclamation work. The Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau officially accepted the document on Dec. 27. The central government immediately resumed working on the new base.
Prior to the resumption, Gov. Onaga met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at the prime minister's office and asked that the prefectural government be given a chance to hold consultations with the central government before the latter resumed work. However, Suga only replied that the national government's "policy of resuming the work remains unchanged."
In response, opponents of the base relocation staged a sit-in protest, saying, "We won't tolerate the resumption of the work."
The reclamation work had been suspended due to a settlement of a lawsuit reached between the national and prefectural governments in March. The resumption of the work follows reconfirmation that the permission given to the central government to carry out reclamation work is valid, and is appropriate as a legal procedure.
However, the resumption is too hasty. The central government should have gone through a more careful process to show consideration to the people of Okinawa -- where there is a glut of U.S. bases, and where crimes and accidents involving U.S. military personnel occur frequently.
The original permission given to the central government for reclamation work in Henoko came with a request that the national government consider holding prior consultations with the prefecture on the work. Since the legal battle just ended, the national government should have held dialogue with the prefectural government to restore mutual trust.
The central government approved the resumption of flights of Osprey MV-22 aircraft belonging to Air Station Futenma only six days after one of them crash-landed along the shore of Nago's Abu district, provoking a backlash from local residents. The resumption of reclamation work in Henoko, also in Nago, only served to further offend Okinawa residents.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 28 Japan time, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii with U.S. President Barack Obama to pay respects to fallen soldiers in a historic ceremony.
The U.S. government welcomed the Japanese Supreme Court's ruling on Henoko. Since the reclamation work was resumed shortly before the memorial ceremony at Pearl Harbor, it is only natural for the public to suspect that the move was a political one aiming to satisfy U.S. wishes.
Gov. Onaga said, "We'll work to block a new base from being built in Henoko by all means." He appears to be considering refusing to renew the prefectural government's permission for the national government to crush reefs in the area, which expires in March next year.
Onaga is backed by those opposed to the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko. If the central government were to stick stubbornly to its position on the issue and continue to aggrieve local residents, it would be detrimental to reaching a realistic resolution to the issue.
Some progress is being made on the reduction of U.S. bases in Okinawa. Most recently, about half of the land occupied by the Jungle Warfare Training Center -- the largest U.S. military facility in the prefecture also known as the Northern Training Area -- was returned to Japan. The national government should break the cycle of mutual distrust and swiftly create an environment for constructive dialogue.