NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga plans to file a countersuit as early as next month seeking to nullify a central government order allowing works for a new U.S. military base to continue, a senior prefectural official has said.
On Tuesday, Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii filed a lawsuit demanding Onaga retract his decision to block landfill work for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a residential district in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
However, the prefectural official said late Tuesday Onaga will submit a bill to the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly when it reconvenes next week authorizing the countersuit.
With Onaga holding majority support in the assembly, the bill is expected to pass, paving the way for a court battle between the central and Okinawa governments.
If the court hands down a ruling in favor of the central government, it would empower Ishii to formally override the governor’s revocation of his predecessor’s approval of the work.
At the prefectural government office in Naha, Onaga told a news conference, “The central government’s attitude to push the base unilaterally (on Okinawa) reflected its discrimination against Okinawa. We would like to insist and verify that our idea is valid in a court of law.”
Meanwhile, former Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota on Tuesday criticized the central government’s action.
“The attempt to suppress (local opposition) by a suit is tantamount to trampling on the feelings of the people of Okinawa,” Ota, 90, said.
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 on 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.”
He added, “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 a platform opposing the Futenma relocation.
Onaga is demanding that the base be moved out of Okinawa altogether.
Ota said he wanted people in Japan to have a better understanding of Okinawa’s base-hosting burden.
His advice for Onaga, based on his own experience in dealing with U.S. government officials, was 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.
Also on Tuesday, former House of Representatives Speaker Yohei Kono reportedly called the central government’s move “a denial of local autonomy.”
Kono, who as foreign minister was involved in Japan’s negotiations with the U.S. concerning the Futenma base 20 years ago, held a lecture in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Tuesday night in which he described the lawsuit against Onaga as “a denial of democracy,” according to NHK.
While pointing out the need to remove the dangers posed to local residents by the current Futenma base, he criticized the “unilateral demand” from the central government in seeking the revocation.
Anti-base sentiment flared up in the wake of the 1995 rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen.
Kono, who retired from politics in 2009, is the father of Taro Kono, who is chairman of the National Security Commission and state minister in charge of administrative reform.