(AA) – The government of Japan’s southern Okinawa island has instructed a Defense Ministry bureau to suspend underwater work in the area where a key U.S. military base is set to be relocated.
Governor Takeshi Onaga told a press conference Monday that the prefectural government’s undersea research last month had found that a large concrete block used for a drilling survey had damaged coral reefs in Henoko district, Nago city.
He added that the government would revoke the permit for rock drilling in the area within a week if the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau did not follow its orders, Kyodo News reported.
The planned construction of a new base to replace the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station – also in Okinawa – has been surrounded by controversy, and Onaga won the gubernatorial election in November with a pledge to oppose the relocation.
The government of Okinawa — where most of the U.S. bases and troops in Japan are situated – says the defense bureau needs its permission in order to conduct a drilling survey.
Tokyo, however, is seeking a replacement facility for the Futenma base in densely populated Ginowan city.
Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary, had earlier drawn attention to the rift between the central and local governments regarding the issue, criticizing Okinawa’s stance.
“If they are considering things as reported, it would be very disappointing,” he told reporters. “We are going to pursue construction work without delay.”
The defense bureau resumed the offshore survey earlier this month, when around a hundred locals gathered near the site to protest the government “bulldozing” through the plan.
The drilling had initially started in August last year, according to Kyodo, but was suspended amid rough weather conditions and the approaching gubernatorial elections in November.
During last December’s general election, all four of Okinawa’s single-seat constituencies were won by candidates opposed to plans to build the base.