The fence between the American base Camp Schwab and Henoko, Nago in Okinawa is decorated with panels opposing the relocation of the base.
Last week marked the first anniversary of the landfill of the planned relocation site for Futenma Air Force Base on the Henoko Bay coastal area in Okinawa. Japan’s central government plans to fill 160 hectares of seabed using 20.62 million cubic meters of soil and sand in an area three times the size of Tokyo Disneyland.
Last week, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki – a staunch opponent of the base transfer – denounced the construction of the landfill as “a disregard for the will of the people, the trampling of democracy and the destruction of the land. ‘local government autonomy’. On the other hand, Defense Minister Taro Kono stressed that the relocation effort “must move forward firmly”, adding “that he would like to explain himself politely to gain the understanding of the inhabitants”.
Tamaki won the Okinawa prefecture gubernatorial election in September last year on the basis of his campaign pledge to end the US base’s “illegal” relocation plan.
In a non-binding referendum in February, 70 percent of Okinawa residents rejected work on the Henoko landfill, but the results fell on deaf ears. Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he will take the referendum seriously, he contradicted himself by saying “We can no longer postpone it”, referring to the importance of the plan to move the Futenma air base to the American-Japanese alliance.
The cabinet secretary of the ruling PLD, Yoshihide Suga, reiterated the government’s position, saying that Henoko was “the only viable solution”. At a press conference last week, Suga told reporters, “We will proceed on the basis of related laws and regulations. “
In the year following the start of the landfill, less than 1% of the surface was completed. The completion date of the landfill and the full costs of the project have not been publicly disclosed. The central government initially estimated that the construction would cost 350 million yen; however, the prefectural government estimates the cost at 2.5 billion yen ($ 22.8 million), calling it a waste of taxpayer money.
Tokyo admitted earlier this year that the original plans had to be changed after discovering that 40% of the total landfill area is made up of shallow seabed described as “soft as mayonnaise”, which puts the infrastructure in danger of sinking if the seabed is not further reinforced.
With the rise in disruption, the two sides are far from finding a solution. A recent study found unstable seabed in Oura Bay, which can be as deep as 30 meters. The thickest ground level extends a further 60 meters downward, for a total of 90 meters below the surface. This unprecedented depth has never been attempted by current soil improvement technology, which reaches a maximum of 70 meters.
Meanwhile, two active fault lines under landfills give more reason to critics who argue that the Henoko Bay area is not a suitable location for a military base.
The new plan will have to be submitted to the Okinawa Prefecture government for approval, which will give it another opportunity to reject the proposal. The matter should then be referred to the courts for the third time. The Okinawa Prefecture government filed a second lawsuit in July under the Local Self-Government Act, but hopes were dashed when the claim was dismissed in October by the Fukuoka High Court, leaving few additional legal avenues.
The new military base was originally scheduled to be built in eight years, but if the new design is taken to court, the doomed project could last for more than a decade. The initial decision to move the base from Futenma to Oura Bay dates back to 1996, but there has been little concrete progress due to strong opposition from Okinawa.
Ongoing protests such as daily sit-ins have become a part of everyday life in Henoko, but protest fatigue creeps in, calling into question their effectiveness.
At the end of November, a group of around 30 activists wearing life jackets marked “stop construction” protested against a new load of soil brought to Henoko by boat. Activists tried to stop the ship from leaving the pier using eight canoes and rubber dinghies. The inhabitants were temporarily detained by the maritime police, allowing the carrier to set off again smoothly. Okinawa native and Communist Party of Japan politician Seiken Akamine took part in the protest, saying they would join forces with opposition parties to push “the moral collapse of the Abe administration” to resignation.