The governor of Okinawa ordered the suspension of work on an offshore extension of a U.S. base on the southern Japanese island, in a move that could complicate Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the U.S. next month.
Work on the extension to make way for the transfer of the U.S. Futenma air base from the center of a crowded city must stop within a week because of suspected damage to coral, Governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters in comments carried by national broadcaster NHK. Onaga said that if the Defense Agency doesn’t comply with the order, he may withdraw a permit for breaking up seabed rock.
The move comes as Abe seeks to strengthen ties with the U.S. amid a territorial dispute with China in the East China, and could overshadow talks in Washington with President Barack Obama on issues including the security alliance. Onaga swept to office in November on a platform of opposition to the extension, undermining an agreement by his predecessor that appeared to end nearly two decades of wrangling.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who doubles as minister in charge of reducing the military burden on Okinawa, said the order was extremely regrettable, adding that the government would respond calmly and in accordance with the law.
Local residents complain of noise, accidents, crime and pollution associated with the U.S. military bases. Protests flared in January over the restart of ocean bed surveys.
Okinawa, which lies about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) south of Tokyo, plays host to about half the 50,000 U.S. military personnel based in Japan. The prefecture served as a vital staging point for U.S. troops during the Korean and Vietnam wars and administers uninhabited islets also claimed by China.