“We will take all possible measures to block base construction in Henoko, and this is the first step,” Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, a long-term critic of US military bases in his prefecture, said at a press conference on Monday.
Okinawa locals welcomed Onaga’s decision and gathered in front of US Camp Schwab, the US Marine Corps camp in the city of Nago. Okinawa, home to about one percent of Japan’s population, hosts nearly half of the 47,000 US troops based in Japan.
“Unfortunately, although I met five times with the central government and explained Okinawa’s position, the history of the bases and the feelings of the Okinawans, I got the impression that such thinking was not taken into account,” Onaga said.
The US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan city has been a cause of tensions between US servicemen and locals for decades.
Tokyo wants to shut the base and open a new one in Henoko in the center of the southern Japanese island.
Previous Okinawa governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, gave the green light for the relocation of the base in 2013. However, when Onaga won the elections in 2014, he promised to oppose the plan to the cheers of most locals.
The relocation work at the site was suspended till September 2015. On Saturday, Japan officially allowed the work to resume. The decision immediately prompted a wave of indignation among residents who are demanding the base be shut down and rebuilt elsewhere in Japan or overseas.
“It was extremely regrettable. I will not let [the central government] build a new base in Henoko by any means,” Onaga said.
There is a long history of criminal incidents reportedly committed by US troops in Okinawa. One of the most notorious cases dates back to 1995 when three US marines kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl.
There have also been less-publicized sex crime cases involving underage victims reported in 2001 and 2005, the fatal running over of a female high school student by a drunken US marine in 1998, and other incidents.