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China ships sail near disputed isles after Mattis visit: Japan
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 6, 2017

Japan resumes work on controversial US base on Okinawa
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 6, 2017 - The Japanese government on Monday resumed work on building a controversial US airbase on Okinawa island, sparking angry protests and scuffles with police.

The Japanese and US governments want the Futenma airbase located in a crowded city on the island moved to a sparsely populated area in the north for safety reasons. But many Okinawans want it off the island altogether.

Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga had tried to block efforts to reclaim land for the new offshore facility and he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe filed rival lawsuits to try to settle the issue.

But in December the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the central government, giving the green light to move ahead on construction.

"The government's position was entirely supported by the Supreme Court ruling," top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a regular briefing on Monday.

He said that during a visit Friday and Saturday by US Defense Secretary James Mattis, the two sides reaffirmed that the new facility "is the only solution".

Japanese TV footage showed construction vessels carrying gigantic concrete blocks offshore, where workers will soon start dropping them into the water for landfill purposes.

Tokyo and Washington first proposed moving the Futenma airbase, a Marine Corps facility located in the middle of the city of Ginowan, in 1996. But the plan has been mired in local opposition.

Campaigners want a replacement built elsewhere in Japan or overseas, saying they can no longer tolerate the heavy American military presence on Okinawa due to noise, accidents and crimes by US service members.

On Monday dozens of protesters were seen trying to block heavy trucks and machines from entering the construction site, scuffling with riot police.

Okinawa, which accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total land area, hosts about 28,000 US troops -- more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.

Islanders have complained for decades that the rest of the country ignores their burden.

"Does the government really see Okinawans as Japanese? I am extremely angry," said Susumu Inamine, mayor of the city of Nago that has jurisdiction over the construction area.

Japan said Chinese coast guard vessels sailed Monday into its territorial waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea, days after the new US defence chief vowed to defend Tokyo's control of them.

Three ships entered the waters surrounding the uninhabited chain, the Japan Coast Guard said in a statement. The isles are controlled by Japan as the Senkakus but claimed by China as the Diaoyus.

The incursion came at around 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) and the ships were cruising in a south-southwesterly direction, according to the statement.

The ships left about two hours later, the coast guard said in a separate statement.

The incident came two days after James Mattis, US President Donald Trump's new defence secretary, said in Tokyo that the island chain was subject to a longstanding Washington-Tokyo defence treaty.

The islets are at the centre of a festering row between Tokyo and Beijing, which is also involved in a widening dispute with several Southeast Asian countries over islands in the South China Sea.

China was quick to accuse the United States of stirring up trouble in Asia with the comments by Mattis.

Its foreign ministry spokesman said Washington should "stop making wrong remarks... and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability" to the region.

China and Japan have repeatedly clashed diplomatically over ownership of the islands, and both sides regularly send ships to nearby waters to assert their claims.

Mattis also had strong words over the South China Sea, saying Beijing "has shredded the trust" of regional countries with the military fortification of islands it controls.

He balanced that message, however, with a call for disputes to be settled through arbitration and diplomacy and ruling out any immediate military response.

China, Taiwan and a handful of Southeast Asian states have claims in the area.

Besides Japan, Mattis also visited South Korea last week as he sought to assure the key allies of continued US commitment to their security.

Trump rattled them last year while he was a candidate, with calls for them to pay more for defence support.

But Japanese and South Korean officials said Mattis never raised the issue of cost-sharing during the talks.

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Previous Report
US-Japan alliance 'cornerstone' of stability: Mattis
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 4, 2017
US Defense Secretary James Mattis told his Japanese counterpart on Saturday that their alliance remained a "cornerstone" of regional stability as he wrapped up a visit aimed at reassuring key Asian allies about Washington's commitment to their security. Japan and the US have a decades-long security alliance while US-South Korea military ties date back to the 1950-53 Korean War. But on t ... read more

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