NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The legal battle over the Futenma base relocation project in Okinawa escalated Friday as the Okinawa Prefectural Government sued the central government over its attempt to bulldoze the plan and override the governor.
“This couldn’t be helped to protect the pride and dignity of the people in the prefecture,” Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said at a news conference a day after a third-party panel in Tokyo refused to review Okinawa’s complaint.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga acknowledged that the rare dispute would be settled in court.
“Our country is ruled by law and we will deal with the issue in line with laws,” the top government spokesman said at a news conference.
The feud, which has developed into a rare situation in which the central government and a prefectural government are suing each other, began when Onaga on Oct. 13 revoked permission for the central government to conduct landfill needed to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential district in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
The land ministry then “suspended the validity” of Onaga’s revocation, and filed a lawsuit in mid-November seeking to take control of the Futenma relocation matter from the governor completely.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government filed a complaint over the land ministry’s step with a third-party dispute settlement panel on Nov. 2, but the panel decided late Thursday that it could not address it.
Mitsuo Kobayakawa, chairman of the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council, said at a news conference early Friday that the ministry’s legal step is not an issue subject to review by the panel.
Onaga said at his own news conference the same day that the council’s decision was an act that “could threaten the raison d’etre” of the council, calling it “extremely deplorable.”
Onaga, who won election in November 2014 after campaigning to fight the Futenma relocation plan, has vowed to block it “by employing every possible means.” He said the lawsuit filed at Naha District Court was part of that plan.
According to the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s lawsuit, the land ministry’s validation suspension is illegal and Onaga’s revocation of the landfill work permit should be reinstated.
The prefectural government also said in a written complaint that “building a base against the will of (the) Okinawa people is an infringement of autonomy.”
Concerned the work will continue even during litigation, Okinawa is also asking the court to suspend the landfill work out of environmental concerns.
“There is an urgent need to swiftly stop (the work),” it said, noting it is impossible to restore the natural environment of the Henoko area once it has been destroyed.
Okinawans have successfully blocked the relocation plan for nearly two decades. They say the prefecture pays too high a price in terms of noise, accidents and crime — including the gang rape of a girl by U.S. servicemen — to continue hosting the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
Japan and the United States struck an accord in 1996 on returning the land at the Futenma site to Japanese control. The two governments say the relocation plan is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the air station without undermining their combined deterrence in East Asia.