Legal clash over U.S. base in Okinawa reopens; ruling set for Sept. 16
NAHA – The legal battle between the central and regional governments over the planned relocation of a key U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture resumed Friday as a court held its first hearing on the case and set Sept. 16 as its ruling date.
In the fresh suit brought to the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court last month, the state argues Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga acted illegally over the landfill work the state was advancing to build a replacement facility for the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government opposes the construction of the facility in the Henoko coastal area on the main island of Okinawa, seeking the relocation of the Futenma base to outside the prefecture entirely. Under this policy, Onaga last October revoked the permission his predecessor had given for landfill work in the area.
At the hearing, Onaga repeated his criticism of the state, saying, “The government is ignoring the public will of Okinawa and leaving an excessive base-hosting burden (on Okinawa) fixed for years to come.”
The central government, which argues that the governor acted illegally by not complying with a state order to retract his revocation, highlighted the need for the landfill project in order to remove the risks the Futenma base poses to nearby residents. The base sits in a densely populated area in Ginowan.
It also asked the court to rule on the case promptly on the grounds that all arguments had been presented, to which the court responded by deciding to issue its ruling on Sept. 16 after ending the hearing on Aug. 19.
Tokyo and Washington agreed years ago to relocate the Futenma base to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago. But opposition from the government and residents in Okinawa remains strong. They cite their longtime burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
The legal tussle over the relocation began when the central government filed a lawsuit in November demanding that Onaga retract his decision, which resulted in a countersuit by the Okinawa Prefectural Government over a state decision to overrule the prefectural attempt to block landfill work.
It was put on hold after a court-mediated settlement was struck in March, whereby the government and Okinawa Prefecture were told to hold talks on the issue. The central government also suspended landfill work in the Henoko area as part of the deal.
Acting on a complaint filed by the governor, a dispute-settlement panel in June failed to issue a judgment on whether the state order was legally valid and simply urged the two sides to keep talking. As the landfill work remained in limbo, the state sued the prefectural government on July 22.