Disputes in Asia

Governor revokes work permit for Okinawa base

Demonstrators marching in Tokyo last month to protest against PM Shinzo Abe’s controversial security laws, nuclear policy and position on the Okinawa base. Tokyo wants to move the US Futenma base to another location on Okinawa but many residents re
Demonstrators marching in Tokyo last month to protest against PM Shinzo Abe’s controversial security laws, nuclear policy and position on the Okinawa base. Tokyo wants to move the US Futenma base to another location on Okinawa but many residents resent hosting the US military at all. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • A row between Tokyo and Okinawa over a contentious US airbase deepened yesterday when Okinawa's governor revoked a work permit for a new site, while the government said it was considering legal action to push ahead.

Tokyo wants to move the US Marines' Futenma base to another location on the southern island, but many Okinawa residents - whose homeland was the site of bloody battles during World War Two - resent hosting the US military at all.

The two sides have been at loggerheads for months, sparking protests around Japan, and perceptions of bullying by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government could dent Mr Abe's support ratings ahead of an election next year.

Anti-base Okinawan governor Takeshi Onaga revoked the permit issued by his predecessor for key landfill construction work needed to build the new base.

"The permit was flawed. We decided that rescinding it was reasonable," he told a news conference.

The government countered by saying it would ignore Mr Onaga's decision, since the previous governor had approved the work, and was looking into legal action.

"The previous governor made an administrative decision, so we believe there's no problem," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. "We are a country of law, and based on the concept of administrative continuity, we believe it's only natural to go ahead with the construction."

Okinawa is home to more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan, a proportion many islanders say is too high.

The United States and Japan agreed in 1996 to close Futenma but plans to move it stalled due to opposition from Okinawa residents. The US says it will not close the base until a replacement facility is ready.

"The Okinawan decision ignores all the efforts that have been made both by both Okinawa and the central government to minimise the danger of Futenma," Mr Suga said. "So it is quite unfortunate."

REUTERS, AGNECE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Disputes in Asia Governor revokes work permit for Okinawa base'. Print Edition | Subscribe