TOKYO/NAHA/NAGO, Okinawa -- Despite repeated calls from Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki to cancel land reclamation work for the construction of a replacement U.S. military base for another facility in Japan's southernmost prefecture, the central government commenced the operation on the morning of Dec. 14.
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Starting full-fledged land reclamation off the coast of Henoko in the Okinawan city of Nago to build the base -- a replacement for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma further south in the city of Ginowan -- is a fateful move. Once land reclamation work begins, it is close to impossible to undo.
On the morning of Dec. 14, reporters gathered at the Okinawa Prefectural Government building. "The central government never intended to even consider changing its plans," Gov. Tamaki told them. "I can't help but feel intense anger toward the construction work that is being pushed forward with absolutely no consideration for the will of the Okinawan people."
Some experts have pointed out that part of the seabed on which land reclamation is planned is extremely soft and weak. This raises the possibility that large-scale soil improvement work could be required. This would call for the submission of a revised construction plan to Okinawa's prefectural government for approval. Gov. Tamaki plans to use his authority to deny approval, as well as the will of the Okinawan people, as tools to press the central government to abandon its base relocation plan. A prefectural referendum on the relocation plan is also planned for Feb. 24 of next year.
The Ministry of Defense's Okinawa Defense Bureau began dumping soil and sand into a 6.3-hectare area of water enclosed by an embankment south of the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab. The zone comprises approximately 4 percent of the entire area that the defense bureau plans to reclaim. Ships transported soil and sand from a pier in Henoko belonging to a private cement company to the embankment. From there, the soil and sand were loaded onto dump trucks that were then driven through Camp Schwab to the base's southern end. The contents of the trucks were then finally dumped into the water.
Just a day earlier, on Dec. 13, Gov. Tamaki had met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at the prime minister's office in Tokyo. There, Tamaki told Suga, "We need further dialogue. The Okinawa Prefectural Government issued an administrative directive on Dec. 12 to cease construction work. We have no choice but to take legal action." He then requested that plans to dump soil and sand into the sea off the coast of Henoko be aborted.
Suga responded, "I can understand Okinawan sentiment, but we're going ahead with the reclamation work." Tamaki then informed Suga, "This is extremely disappointing. This heavy-handed approach will invite even greater voices of indignation and anger among Okinawans toward the government."
Before his talks with Suga, Tamaki had met with Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya at the Defense Ministry to lodge a similar request. However, Iwaya merely restated, "My conviction that relocation (of the Futenma base) to Henoko is the only solution (to remove the dangers that Futenma poses) remains unchanged." He also told Tamaki that he would continue to work to gain the understanding of the Okinawa Prefectural Government.
"We will unwaveringly consider our next steps. We are negotiating the matter from different angles," Gov. Tamaki told reporters following his meetings with Iwaya and Suga, indicating that he was considering various countermeasures.
The central government notified the Okinawa Prefectural Government on Dec. 3 that it would begin full-fledged land reclamation work in Henoko on Dec. 14. The Okinawa government on Dec. 12 issued an administrative directive to the Okinawa Defense Bureau to cancel construction work immediately, on the grounds that it was planning to use soil and sand with a composition that was unclear.
The central government began dumping soil and sand into waters off Henoko at around 11 a.m. on Dec. 14.
(Japanese original by Kazumasa Kawabe, Political News Department; Hiroshi Maetani, City News Department; and Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)