TOKYO (AP) — Okinawa's governor said Monday that he was preparing to revoke approval for work needed to relocate a U.S. military air base from one area of the southern Japanese island to another, just days after the work was restarted.
Local residents are upset at having to live alongside U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma, and there are plans to move it to a less-developed area on Okinawa called Henoko. But the locals say the relocation only moves the burden elsewhere, and they want the base moved off the island entirely.
Gov. Takeshi Onaga, elected last year on promises to fight the move, said that approval given in 2013 by his predecessor for landfill work has "legal defects" and that he has begun the process to cancel it.
"We will take all possible measures to block base construction in Henoko, and this is the first step," Onaga said at a news conference at his office in the prefectural capital of Naha, indicating that he is set for a legal battle with Japan's central government.
Anti-military sentiment is high on Okinawa, which houses more than half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. In terms of space, 74 percent of U.S. bases are on the island, which has only 0.6 percent of Japan's land.
The central government suspended the land reclamation work on Aug. 10 to allow for a month of talks to reach a compromise with the Okinawan government, but that proved to be too short of a period to resolve two decades of political fighting. After a monthlong break while fruitless talks were held, the reclamation work resumed Saturday amid strong protests by local residents and activists at the site.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the reclamation work would continue as planned, calling Onaga's protest "regrettable."
The Defense Ministry, which is in charge of the reclamation work, is reportedly considering the possibility of filing for an injunction if Onaga carries through on his attempt to revoke approval for the work.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. remains confident that both governments are committed to the base relocation and view it as important to the health of the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
The dispute over relocating Futenma symbolizes centuries-old tensions between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland, which annexed the islands, formerly the independent kingdom of the Ryukyus, in 1879. In the final days of World War II, Okinawa became Japan's only home battleground, and the island remained under U.S. rule for 20 years longer than Japan's 1952 emergence from the American occupation.
Onaga has said the Futenma problem dates back to the U.S. confiscation of Okinawan land after Japan's World War II defeat. Tokyo's postwar defensive deterrence under the Japan-U.S. security alliance is built on Okinawa's sacrifice, he said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report from Washington.