National / Politics

Okinawa rebuffs state order on landfill work, court battle looms

Kyodo

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said Wednesday he will not retract his decision to block landfill work for the relocation of a U.S. military base, setting the stage for a court battle with the central government.

Onaga refused to accept land minister Keiichi Ishii’s “instruction” to retract his revocation of the approval granted by his predecessor for landfill work in connection with a replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

“Rescinding the approval was legal and just,” Onaga told a news conference. He also criticized the central government’s plan to seek a court judgment to empower itself to override the revocation, calling it “extremely unjust.”

Now that Onaga has refused to comply with Ishii’s instruction, the central government is expected to take the matter to a high court next week at the earliest.

The rift between the local and central governments has escalated since Onaga on Oct. 13 revoked the approval granted by his predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima in 2013.

The central government countered the move by suspending the revocation’s validity on Oct. 27, while also starting procedures for resorting a measure that can be used when a governor’s actions are deemed to have significantly undermined the public interest.

In such a case, the Local Autonomy Law allows a minister in charge to seek a court decision allowing him or her to take over the matter if the governor refuses to correct the actions in question.

The land minister sent documents “recommending” and then “instructing” Onaga to reverse course on his decision. But Onaga, who was elected in November last year on a pledge to oppose the base relocation plan, rejected both requests.

Many Okinawan residents are heavily opposed to the relocation plan due to the burdens placed on the island that hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.

The central government began work on Oct. 29 to build a base in the Henoko coastal area of Nago to replace the Futenma Air Station, which is located in a crowded residential district of Ginowan.

Tokyo and Washington struck an accord on the return of the Futenma site to Japanese control in 1996.

They say the existing relocation plan is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the air station without undermining the effectiveness of the alliance and the deterrence the U.S. presence has in East Asia.