Onaga’s move--retracting his predecessor’s approval of the central government’s land reclamation project off the Henoko district of Nago--will be met with countermeasures that will again likely take the dispute to court.
Onaga made the announcement at a protest in front of Camp Schwab in Henoko on March 25, his first attendance at the long-running rally outside the U.S. military base.
The new air station, which will take over the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in Okinawa Prefecture, is expected to become part of Camp Schwab.
“Using every means available, I will retract (the approval) without fail,” Onaga said at the rally. “Our battle to block a new base at Henoko will enter a new stage. Okinawa’s new battle will begin from now.”
About 3,500 people attended the protest, according to the organizer.
“The retraction is the biggest and the last trump card (for Onaga),” said a high-ranking official of the Okinawa prefectural government.
If Onaga retracts the approval, the reclamation work will temporarily stop.
However, the central government can take countermeasures similar to the ones it used after Onaga nullified the approval for the reclamation work in October 2015.
The Defense Ministry could counter by applying to the land ministry for a suspension of the implementation of the governor’s retraction.
The central government could separately instruct Onaga to withdraw his retraction of the approval. If Onaga refuses to comply, Tokyo can file a lawsuit with a high court to withdraw the retraction over the head of the governor.
A senior official of the central government said calmly, “We will simply proceed with the reclamation work.”
The Supreme Court ruled in December 2016 that Onaga’s nullification of the approval for the reclamation work was illegal, and it rescinded the nullification.
There are differences between nullification and retraction of an approval in legal terms.
Approval can be nullified when there are problems with the approval itself.
A retraction is a measure taken when the organization carrying out the project has committed serious rule violations or caused problems after the approval was given.
The central government is the organization in the Henoko relocation project.
The Okinawa prefectural government headed by Onaga’s predecessor permitted the central government to crush reefs for the reclamation work. That permission is scheduled to expire at the end of this month.
If the central government continues to crush reefs after the expiration date, Onaga plans to regard the act as a serious rule violation, and retract the approval.
(This article was compiled from reports by Go Katono and Masahiro Iwao.)