Crane barges and other vessels appeared off the Henoko district here on Jan. 27, signaling the restart of the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, despite recent moves by the Okinawan government to halt the preparation work.
Preparation for the resumption of exploration drilling came one day after Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga formally asked the central government to temporarily suspend the activities.
However, the government described the transfer as inevitable.
"The most important thing is to definitely avoid perpetuating the Futenma base, which is situated in the middle of an urban area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Jan. 27 after being asked about Onaga's request. "We will steadily carry out the relocation work while obtaining understanding from residents and ensuring safety."
Onaga has set up an independent panel to review former Governor Hirokazu Nakaima's decision in 2013 to approve the reclamation work.
The decision to press ahead with the project goes against the desire of most Okinawans, who supported candidates on anti-base relocation platforms in the gubernatorial election on Nov. 16 and the Lower House election on Dec. 14.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine rapped the central government at a protest site in the Henoko district on Jan. 27 over the survey-related activity.
"This is the central government's way of showing that they will proceed with the plan regardless of the will of the Okinawans," Inamine said. "I take it as a warning."
"Is this democracy?" asked Yoshikazu Higa, 63, a resident of the prefecture's Nanjo who participated in the protest. "I will not give up. I will continue to protest."
A 51-year-old male visiting the district from Osaka echoed the sentiment, saying the central government "should at least halt the work out of consideration for the results of the Okinawan governorship race. The central government does not behave like this except for Okinawa."
Since last year, the central government has further promoted the relocation work each time Okinawans have expressed their opposition to the plan through local elections.
For example, in January 2014, Inamine, who opposes the base relocation, secured a second term in the mayoral vote in Nago. Two days after the election, the central government started bidding procedures toward the transfer.
Also, just three days after Onaga, a staunch opponent of the relocation of the U.S. base within the prefecture, won the Okinawa gubernatorial vote in November, preparation work in waters off Henoko resumed for the first time in about two months.