The central government launched into an all-out battle with the Okinawa Prefectural Government on Tuesday, saying the prefecture’s order to halt construction work for the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is “illegal and obviously invalid.”
Based on the administrative appeal law, the Defense Ministry filed a complaint with the agricultural and fisheries ministry over the order that the prefecture had lodged with the ministry’s local bureau.
Farm and fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi will examine the complaint and issue a ruling.
The ruling is likely to be followed by a lawsuit by Okinawa, as Hayashi, an appointee of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will probably rule in favor of the central government.
Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Monday instructed the local bureau of the Defense Ministry to halt work on building the replacement for Futenma off Nago in northern Okinawa Prefecture.
Onaga said concrete blocks on the seabed used to tether buoys had crushed coral outside the designated area. This was unsanctioned damage, he said, and therefore all construction work must halt within a week.
The governor, a staunch opponent of the base relocation, even indicated he may revoke permission for the landfill if the central government ignores his order.
Tokyo’s reaction came the following day. During a news conference Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the governor’s order involved “grave illegality” and is “obviously invalid.”
“The prefectural government had told (the Defense Ministry) no permission was necessary to destroy reefs. Such permission was not required for similar work to build an additional runway at Naha Airport,” Suga said, referring to the airport serving the prefectural capital.
The central government is confident it would win any legal battles with the prefectural government over the matter.
“Look at the case of the runway at Naha Airport,” a high-ranking official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Prefectural governments have the power to permit or reject landfill as well as the destruction of coral reefs. Former Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima granted permission for the relocation project after the central government pledged huge economic development funds for the prefecture.
Many Okinawans fear construction of the alternative base will strengthen the U.S. military’s footing in the prefecture, where anti-military sentiment remains strong because of the legacy of World War II, when there was fierce fighting there in the closing days of the war.
The Futenma air station is located in Ginowan, central Okinawa, a neighborhood where air base noise and the fear of aviation accidents affect a large number of people.
Locals have long called for the base’s closure and its relocation outside the prefecture.