Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Top court likely to back Tokyo over Okinawa in U.S. base lawsuit

The Supreme Court is set to side with the central government in a lawsuit over the contentious relocation of a U.S. military base in Okinawa, upholding a lower court decision against the prefecture's governor, Takeshi Onaga.
The top court’s second petty bench said Dec. 12 it will hand down a ruling on Dec. 20 without hearing the case, a sign that it will let stand the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court’s ruling in favor of the central government.
After the highest court’s announcement, Onaga reiterated that he will comply with the ruling once it is final, but then seek other ways to stop the relocation plan.

“I will never allow construction of a new base to happen in Henoko,” he said of the stalled project to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, both in the prefecture.
The central government sued Onaga in July after he refused to follow its instruction to retract his annulling of approval for reclamation work in Henoko for the U.S. base.
His predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, approved the reclamation work in December 2013 at the central government’s request.
Onaga, who was elected in 2014 on the pledge to block the relocation plan, revoked that approval in October 2015.
The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court ruled in September that Nakaima’s approval was “not unreasonable” and that Onaga’s refusal to withdraw the annulling of the approval was “illegal.”
It also said, “The only way to remove the danger (to local residents) posed by the Futenma airfield is to build a new facility in Henoko.”
The Futenma base is considered one of the most dangerous U.S. bases in the world as it sits in a crowded residential area.
A majority of Okinawans want the Futenma facility to be relocated due to this danger, but not in the prefecture, which is home to 74 percent of U.S. military installations in Japan.
The central government is pressing ahead with the relocation, which was agreed with the United States in 1996.
When Onaga appealed the high court ruling in September, he expected he would end up on the losing side at the Supreme Court.
Still, he decided to take the case to the court in Tokyo, believing that a governor taking part in a trial at the highest court would have been significant.
“It would have been a great opportunity to testify before the Japanese public what was going on in Okinawa,” a senior official at the prefectural government said of the hoped-for legal joust at the Supreme Court.
As for the next move to stop the relocation project, Onaga said in late November that he is mulling several options.
One is not renewing a permit for the central government to destroy coral reef at the site. That permit expires at the end of March.
Another is not approving a change in the design and construction method of reclamation work.
He is also preparing a third trip to the United States in 2017 to voice his opposition against the U.S. base relocation, when Donald Trump is president.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of court battles between the central government and Okinawa over the relocation project.
The two sides agreed to withdraw their respective lawsuits under a court-mediated settlement in March.
But they could not iron out their differences after the settlement and locked horns once again.
(This article was compiled from reports by Odaka Chiba and Takufumi Yoshida.)

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