Japan launches relocation of U.S. military station despite local objection

2024-01-11 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

The Japan Ministry of Defense started construction work for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday after overriding the local government's objection.

The central government plans to transfer the functions of the Futenma Air Station from a crowded residential district in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

Despite objections from Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, who has not sanctioned the necessary design changes for ground improvement, Tetsuo Saito, Japan's minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, granted approval in December 2023, overriding the prefecture's dissent and advancing with the construction.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau reported that stones were deployed into the sea off the east side of Camp Schwab, known for its softer ground, to establish a sea yard for the temporary placement of concrete box-like structures used in coastal construction.

According to the design outline provided by the bureau, it will concurrently proceed with the construction of the sea yard and coastal work, initiating ground improvement work within the year.

The Ministry of Defense said it will take about 12 years to complete all construction activities and associated procedures, ultimately enabling the relocation of the Futenma Air Station.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told a regular news conference on Wednesday that the government views the Henoko relocation as the only solution. He said the government will continue to offer thorough explanations to the local community and will make every effort to alleviate the burden of the base.

In 2019, the Ministry of Defense projected the estimated overall cost of constructing a replacement facility for the U.S. military base to be 930 billion yen ($6.42 billion).

Kazuyuki Hamada, an expert in U.S. political science and Japan's former parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs, warned that if the relocation plan is forced through without the understanding of the people, it will worsen both Okinawans' anti-U.S. sentiment and their trust in the central government, potentially leading to the destabilization of Japan-U.S. relations.

"If the central government continues to prioritize its relationship with the U.S. over the intentions of Okinawa and other local governments, it is unavoidable that resentment and destabilization toward the administration will increase," Hamada said.

He noted that even more than 75 years after the end of World War II, an abnormal situation persists in Japan with many U.S. military bases scattered across the country. More than 70 percent of them are concentrated in Okinawa.

"While maintaining an alliance with the U.S. is diplomatically important for a nation, it seems unnecessary from a security standpoint to continue sustaining U.S. military bases under the financial burden of the Japanese government," Hamada said.

Considering the waters around Henoko host over 5,300 species, including 262 endangered species, such a relocation plan that may lead to the destruction of this rich natural environment could also provoke an international backlash, he said.

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