Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Monday countermanded an order by Okinawa Gov Takeshi Onaga to suspend all work in the area where a key U.S. military air base is to be relocated, in a growing confrontation between the island and the central government.
Onaga ordered the suspension last Monday, saying that a concrete anchor thrown into the sea for a drilling survey at the site is believed have damaged coral. It was his first specific action to interfere with the relocation since taking office four months ago. His predecessor’s approval of the plan had allowed the Defense Bureau to begin preparing the site in Henoko for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Delaying construction work "risks great damage to diplomacy and defence policy by having a negative impact on the Japan-U.S. relationship, as well as affecting residents near Futenma" who put up with the risk of accidents and noise, Hayashi said in a statement.
Hayashi's decision came after he had examined the governor's order "from a fair and neutral position," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, adding the government thinks it is "extremely important" to reduce the risks posed by the Futenma base.
The ministry sent a formal notice to Onaga's office, informing him of the decision to override his ruling.
Onaga told a news conference last week that the use of concrete blocks had not been authorized. He said the prefecture needs to assess the damage, and demanded the Defense Bureau stop all activity related to the relocation within one week or lose its license for the drilling work, which could put the entire relocation on hold.
The underwater drilling, which had been halted before last November’s election in an apparent attempt by the central government to avoid controversy, resumed earlier this month to prepare for the land reclamation needed to build an airstrip over the water from Camp Schwab, another American military base.© Japan Today/AFP/AP