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Okinawa Landfill | Credits: The Japan Today
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Okinawa landfill resumes despite protests: US military base construction advances amid local opposition

Japanese construction workers resumed landfill work on Wednesday at the future location of the US military installation on Okinawa, despite protests from island residents who say the action violates their rights and raises environmental concerns.

Landfill Work Resumes Despite Protests

The planned relocation site for the facility, on Okinawa’s eastern coast, has been the source of contention between the Tokyo administration and local officials at a time when the island’s strategic importance is expanding.

Okinawa is becoming increasingly important to the Japan-US military alliance as tensions with China rise, while Japan is likewise quickly expanding its military presence in the southern region.

Three weeks ago, the Fukuoka High Court’s Naha branch ordered Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki to approve the central government’s modified landfill plan, allowing the Land and Transport Ministry to continue work despite the governor’s objections.

On a barge transported to the site on Wednesday, a pair of loader machines swept up mounds of rock and gravel and threw them into the sea as part of the reclamation needed to fortify the extremely shallow seabed at the site designated for the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Legal Battles and Government Approval

Tamaki, who has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, claimed that the court verdict was unreasonable and went against the citizens’ wishes. Construction may continue while the court verdict is pending, according to Japanese law. He described the resumption of landfill activity as “extremely regrettable.”

Okinawa and Tokyo have long feuded over the relocation of the Futenma base. In 1996, Tokyo and Washington agreed to close the Futenma air station following the rape of a schoolgirl by three US personnel, which sparked a large anti-base protest. However, the closing was delayed for about 30 years due to ongoing protests and lawsuits against the relocation plan.

In 2018, the Japanese central government began reclamation work near Henoko Bay on Okinawa’s eastern coast to prepare for the evacuation of the Futenma base from its populous area on the island.

Okinawa Landfill | Credits: AP Photo

The central authorities then determined that portions of the planned reclamation site were on soft ground, and they proposed a revision to the original plan that included extra land rehabilitation at a cost of 930 billion yen ($6.5 billion).

Global Petition for Okinawan Autonom

Tamaki, the governor, has advocated a large reduction in the US military presence on Okinawa, which is home to more than half of the 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan under a bilateral security agreement.

Hundreds of scholars, film directors, and ordinary individuals who have pushed for Okinawan autonomy have signed a global petition requesting that the island stop being “a de facto military colony of the United States and Japan ever since the end of World War II.”

Satoko Norimatsu Oka, director of the Vancouver-based Peace Philosophy Center, gave The Associated Press a copy of the petition form.

“We must end the discrimination and military colonization of Okinawa,” stated the petitioners, who included director Oliver Stone.

The petition called on President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to “cancel the construction of the new base in Henoko.”

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