Japan's central government restarted landfill work Thursday for a replacement facility for a major U.S. military base in Okinawa despite strong local opposition.
Preparatory work for land reclamation was resumed even though the Okinawa prefectural government retracted its approval this summer for the landfill work to build a replacement facility in a coastal district of Henoko for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
"It is extremely regrettable that the work was resumed despite our calls for dialogue with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe," Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters at the prefectural government office in the city of Naha.
The military base is currently located in a densely populated residential area of Ginowan. Many people in Okinawa have been pushing for the base to be moved out of the southern island prefecture.
The Okinawa Defense Bureau on Thursday started placing a floating pier to be used by the Japan Coast Guard and floats indicating off-limit areas, while protesters held demonstrations aboard vessels.
(Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki)
Tamaki, who won late September's gubernatorial election with a pledge to stop the controversial relocation, has said the government decision to restart the landfill work goes against the will of the majority of local residents.
Deputy Gov. Kichiro Jahana told reporters on Thursday that the central government has failed to heed Okinawa's voice, and said he will request a meeting with Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Suga said in a press conference in Tokyo that he is prepared to meet with the governor and senior Okinawa officials "if the schedules of both sides allow" on behalf of Abe, given that the prime minister already had talks with them in mid-October.
The landfill work was approved in 2013 by then Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima. But his successor Takeshi Onaga, who led an anti-U.S. base movement before his death in August, revoked the approval in 2015, citing legal defects in Nakaima's decision.
In an ensuing court battle, the revocation was found illegal and Onaga rescinded it in 2016.
Citing illegality in the relocation work procedure, the Okinawa government again retracted its approval for the landfill work in August as instructed by Onaga before his death, causing construction of the new facility to be put on hold.
Land minister Keiichi Ishii authorized the resumption of the landfill work earlier this week on the grounds that the retraction was unreasonable and would hurt the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Japan and the United States agreed on the Futenma base transfer in 1996 and the central government later picked Henoko as the relocation site.
Tamaki has said he plans to file a complaint with a government committee tasked with resolving conflicts between the central and local governments.
If the panel does not rule in favor of Okinawa, the prefecture may consider taking the case to a high court.
Okinawa plans to hold a prefectural referendum on the relocation plan by the end of next April even though the result would not be legally binding. Tamaki is preparing to visit the United States to explain the situation in the prefecture and appeal to public opinion.