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Gov't to begin full-scale land reclamation work off Henoko as early as Dec. 14

Work to load soil and sand to be used in the land reclamation off the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, onto a boat at a pier in the Awa district of the city on Dec. 3, 2018, is seen from the Mainichi Shimbun aircraft "Kibo." (Mainichi)
Citizens opposing the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture, are seen staging a sit-in protest at a gate to a pier in the Awa district of Nago on Dec. 3, 2018, from the Mainichi Shimbun aircraft "Kibo." (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The government is poised to begin full-scale land reclamation work off the Henoko district of Nago, in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, as early as Dec. 14, as part of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the city of Ginowan also on the main island.

    The announcement was made by Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya on Dec. 3. "Based on the development of the seawall construction work, we now expect the landfill reclamation work to be started sometime around Dec. 14," Iwaya told reporters at the ministry.

    If the central government is to push ahead with the landfill work, it will substantially change the natural environment along the Henoko coast, and the relocation would be irreversible. The move will inevitably spark fierce protests from the Okinawa Prefectural Government, which is strongly opposed to the project.

    The Ministry of Defense plans to pour soil and sand into the sea from a ship that will transport the landfill material from a pier owned by a private company in the Awa district of Nago, according to Iwaya.

    With regard to the intense tug of war between the central and prefectural governments in November over the base relocation, Iwaya said, "We share the view that the Futenma base poses a danger (to the local community), but we failed to reach agreement on how to relocate it." The base is located in a crowded residential area in the center of the city of Ginowan, in the central part of the main island of Okinawa.

    "We'd like to gain the understanding (of the prefectural government) in order to relocate the base, and return" the land occupied by the base to its owners as early as possible, the defense minister added.

    Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita and Okinawa Vice Gov. Kiichiro Jahana held four rounds of rigorous negotiations concerning the Marine Corps base relocation from Nov. 9, but failed to reach any compromise.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also met with Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Nov. 28, but the two men remained at odds over the issue.

    The prefectural government referred for review a decision by Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii, to temporarily suspend the prefecture's retraction of permission for the landfill off Henoko, to the Committee for Settling National-Local Disputes on Nov. 29.

    Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 to close the Futenma base on condition that the base was relocated within Okinawa Prefecture. Tokyo then chose Nago's Henoko district as the site for the base transfer. However, former mayor of the Okinawan capital of Naha, Takeshi Onaga, successfully ran in the 2014 gubernatorial election on a platform of blocking the base relocation within the prefecture.

    After taking office, former Gov. Onaga butted heads with the central government over the issue. However, he died of pancreatic cancer in August 2018, a few months before his term was to end in December.

    Gov. Tamaki, a former legislator with the opposition Liberal Party, also opposed to the base's relocation to Henoko, won the Sept. 30 gubernatorial election as Onaga's successor.

    (Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department, and Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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