The governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, has revoked permission for construction work on a new U.S. base at Henoko Bay on the Japanese island.
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For two decades, the U.S. and Japanese military planners have been attempting to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma — now located in the middle of a crowded city — on the island to a less populated area. The plan for the relocation has faced growing opposition and many protests since Onaga an opponent of the base won over the incumbent governor last November.The conflict has grown since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to complete the base. The deal for relocation was agreed to back in the 1990s. Abe is promoting increased military spending and military ties with the U.S. in a bid to counter China's growing military power. He has reinterpreted the pacifist Japanese constitution so as to allow Japanese forces to engage in combat missions outside of Japan.Abe reversed a decades-old policy that allowed Japanese forces only to be use in self-defence. There was a great deal of opposition and many demonstrations against this move. Many in the Japanese public oppose Abe's hawkish vision of Japan's future. In Okinawa this opposition is even stronger. They feel that neither the needs nor wishes of Okinawans are considered in Abe's plans. As the New York Times reports:Onaga, at a news conference in Naha the capital of Okinawa, claimed that there were "legal flaws" in the permit that had been issued by his predecessor, who supported the relocation, and announced that he was revoking permission. Onaga wants the Futema base moved off the island completely. Okinawa is host to about 25,000 U.S. military personnel, more than half the number throughout the whole of Japan. Polls show that a majority of residents support the position of their governor. Demonstrators outside Camp Schwab, the U.S. base at Henoko Bay, cheered Onaga's announcement. Under the relocation plan the base would be much enlarged with runways extending into the bay. Very little work has been done but even surveys have brought protests.The Japanese government will seek to have Onaga's decision overruled. The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has ultimate jurisdiction over the construction permit revoked by the governor. Government spokesperson, Yoshihide Suga, said:“There is no change to our plan to continue with construction in order to prepare for relocation." Experts claimed that the issue could end up in Japanese courts. It remains to be seen if construction will continue or be frozen until the courts decide on the issue. Masakazu Aharen, of Shizuoka University said that trying to overrule Onaga's decision could be politically damaging for Abe who is already facing declining ratings over security bills he pushed through parliament. Ignoring widespread opposition in Okinawa could further damage his reputation.
Daily demonstrations against the base by protesters encamped at its main gate, and the shouts of “Warmonger!” that greeted Mr. Abe on a visit to Okinawa last month, highlight what he is up against: a public that for decades has recoiled from anything resembling the militarism that led Japan into World War II.