The latest round of claim and counter-claim stems from a directive from recently-elected Governor Onaga (independent, although preferenced by the JCP) on the 23rd of March to the Ministry of Defence Okinawa Office. Okinawan governmental surveys found that the concrete buoys weighing down floating boom gates (which were installed to prevent protestors from reaching the main construction site off the shore of Henoko) were causing damage to the seabed, and that all construction therefore had to cease within a week in order for impact assessments to be made (the boom gates had apparently been approved, but not the means of anchoring them). Governor Onaga insisted that if any objections were made to this, then he, as governor, would revoke the office’s right to continue construction (J).
This news did not go down well in Tokyo, where Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated in a media conference that construction would continue unabated, while the Ministry of Defence insisted that it could continue with the construction irrespective of the governor’s directive. Matters came to a head on Saturday when Agriculture Minister Hayashi made his announcement, apparently after consultations with Defence Minister Nakatani Ken (J). As to whether the federal government can legally halt a directive of a prefectural governor is a subject that deserves closer examination in a future post, however suffice to say Governor Onaga wasted no time in getting his message of protest to Tokyo, arriving in the capital earlier in the week hoping to meet with PM Shinzo Abe to discuss the issue.
That wish has yet to be met, although it was reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga would meet with Governor Onaga on the 5th of this month (J). In the meantime, a survey of public attitudes towards the issue was conducted by the FNN news network, which found that a majority of those Japanese citizens surveyed were in favour of the manner in which Governor Onaga was addressing the matter (51.3% for versus 40.1% against) and were critical of the federal government’s response (50.4%) (J). The same survey also revealed that 86.9% of respondents had favoured either Secretary Suga or PM Abe meeting directly with Governor Onaga.
The manner in which the standoff has been handled has resulted in further criticisms of the Abe government, most notably from the comedian (and occasional social commentator) Ota Hikaru who expressed his views in fairly blunt terms (J). The perception among the general public appears to be in favour of some sort of conciliation between both parties, for example allowing the impact assessment to proceed but ensuring that this does not result in the cancellation of the construction project. However at this stage nothing has been discussed or decided, and the outcome might not resolve either side’s concerns.