Former Okinawa governor raps Japanese government suit over U.S. base


Former Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota criticized the central government for seeking to override the prefectural government’s refusal to reinstate approval of landfill work for the Futenma base relocation.

“The attempt to suppress (local opposition) by a suit is tantamount to trampling on the feelings of the people of Okinawa,” Ota, 90, said Tuesday in an interview.

In 1995, when he was still in office, Ota refused to comply with a central government order to act as proxy for recalcitrant landlords and renew leases of land used by the U.S. military in Okinawa.

The dispute was brought to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the central government in August 1996.

“Despite the principle of separation of powers, the judiciary in Japan tends to subordinate itself to the administrative branch,” Ota said. “I think it will be very difficult for the prefectural government to win the suit.”

In the latest litigation, filed Tuesday, the central government is seeking high court approval to grant itself permission for the landfill work in place of Gov. Takeshi Onaga. He has rejected the central government’s instruction to cancel his revocation of his predecessor’s approval.

The reclamation work is needed to build a facility in the Henoko coastal area of Nago to host the functions currently handled by the Futenma air station, which sits in a crowded area of Ginowan.

“There’s growing anger over the base issue among the residents of Okinawa” following Onaga’s landslide victory in the gubernatorial election last year on his platform of opposition to the Futenma relocation, Ota said.

Onaga is demanding that the base be moved out of Okinawa altogether.

Ota said he wants people in the rest of Japan to have a better understanding of the pains associated with Okinawa’s base-hosting burden.

His advice for Onaga, based on his own experience in dealing with U.S. government officials, is to continue lobbying the U.S. Defense and State departments, and the Senate Armed Services Committee, which have strong influence over Washington’s security policy.

Ota suggested that Onaga invite senior U.S. government officials and lawmakers to visit Okinawa.

He “needs to make efforts to have them (U.S. officials) take a firsthand look at the actual condition of U.S. bases in Okinawa,” Ota said.