Photo/IllutrationEarth and sand are loaded on a vessel berthed at Ryukyu Cement Co.’s pier in the Awa district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 3. (Kazuyuki Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

With talks failing to resolve the controversial relocation of the U.S. military's Futenma base within Okinawa Prefecture, the central government announced it will begin delayed land reclamation work on Dec. 14.

“It is regrettable that we did not agree on the relocation,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said in Tokyo on Dec. 3, referring to the talks between the central and Okinawa prefectural governments.

Tokyo is pushing the project to build a new partially offshore base off the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture that will take over the functions of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in the prefecture.

The prefectural government is calling for the early closure of Futenma, which sits in a heavily populated area, but is adamantly opposed to the relocation inside the prefecture.

Officials from both sides held four sessions of talks last month but could not find common ground.

“We are determined to move forward with the project, given the outcome of the talks,” Iwaya said.

In Nago, about 50 demonstrators, chanting “Stop the illegal work,” began a sit-in from around 8 a.m. on Dec. 3 near the entrance of a pier in the city’s Awa district, from where earth and sand will be transported to Henoko for the land reclamation.

But the protesters were forcibly removed one by one by about 30 members of the Okinawa prefectural riot police who assembled there.

Afterward, guards from a private company and Ryukyu Cement Co. employees formed a barrier at the entrance to block protesters trying to obstruct the transport. The pier is owned by Ryukyu Cement.

After 9 a.m., a convoy of 10 vehicles, including dump trucks, entered the premises leading to the pier.

Earth and sand unloaded from the trucks were put on a conveyer belt before being transported to the pier about 200 meters away and loaded on a ship that is believed will take the landfill to Henoko.

The Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau, which is in charge of the new base project, initially planned to gather part of the earth and sand needed in Motobu, a town neighboring Nago, and ship the load to Henoko from Motobu Port.

But the town government, which manages the port, has refused to accept an application for a permit to use the docks submitted by a company commissioned by the bureau, citing damage to the facilities caused by a typhoon in September.

As a result, the central government decided instead to use Ryukyu Cement’s pier, which is about 5 kilometers from Motobu Port, as no permit from local authorities is required.

On Dec. 3, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga underlined the legitimacy of the procedures.

“I am aware that the Okinawa Defense Bureau is proceeding with work toward the relocation to Henoko in line with relevant laws,” he said at a news conference.

The central government initially planned to start the pouring of earth and sand into the sea on Aug. 17.

But it suspended the work to not cause further animosity among islanders after Takeshi Onaga, predecessor of new Governor Denny Tamaki and a staunch opponent of the base project, died in early August.

The move to pour earth and sand this month comes as the prefectural government decided late last month to hold a referendum on Feb. 24 on the relocation issue. The public vote is an attempt to reassert Okinawans’ opposition to the U.S. base project before the central and U.S. government.

(This article is compiled from reports by Shinichi Fujiwara, Ryuichi Yamashita and Kazuyuki Ito.)