Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, has promised to deliver on a $8.6 billion U.S. military base relocation project, but the governor of Okinawa has refused to let work continue on the island.Pool Photo by Alex Wong/UPI | License Photo
TOKYO, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- The dispute over the relocation of a U.S. military air base in Okinawa is escalating after the governor of the island refused to retract a revocation of a U.S. military base relocation permit.
Gov. Takeshi Onaga said Friday he "cannot comply with the recommendation" from Tokyo's Land Minister Keiichi Ishii, who tried to overrule the governor by reversing the revocation in October, Kyodo News Agency reported.
Onaga said he couldn't honor the approval for landfill work, because his predecessor's decision was "faulty." Onaga's supporters have agreed, because they associate American presence with accidents and crime.
The United States and Japan have been trying for 20 years to move the air base, currently situated in a densely populated area known as Ginowan. The plan is to relocate the base to the more sparsely populated Henoko coast, but many residents of Okinawa want the U.S. bases removed entirely.
Okinawa's 1.3 million residents play host to more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan, and three-quarters of U.S. bases in the country, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
Protesters have been opposed to the U.S. presence for some time, and resentment has grown since 1996, when three U.S. soldiers raped a local schoolgirl. Putting the base relocation at risk, however, is not being tolerated, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to deliver on the $8.6 billion base project.
The use of force against anti-base activists has increased outside the construction area, and one protester, Hideki Yoshikawa, said that "the situation will get uglier."
Onaga's refusal to comply with Tokyo is likely to lead to a court case by the end of November, but the governor has not backed down from his original policies.
The stakes, however, are high not only for Japan but also for the United States. Both governments see the base as a necessary deterrent against rivals in the region.