National

Okinawa set to lose lawsuit filed by state over U.S. base relocation

Kyodo

The Supreme Court will not hold a hearing to review a lower court ruling that backed the central government’s move to relocate the Futenma air base within Okinawa, making it certain the prefecture will lose its case, sources said Monday.

Instead, the top court will hand down its ruling at 3 p.m. Dec. 20, the sources said. The lawsuit was filed by the central government in July as Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga sought to block the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less-populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court ruled in September that it was “illegal” for Onaga to revoke in October last year his predecessor’s approval for landfill work required for the relocation plan. The Okinawa Prefectural Government appealed the ruling later in the month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference he had not received notice from the Supreme Court but noted that both the central and prefectural governments earlier agreed to “comply with the final judgment” once it is issued and to “sincerely” deal with the Futenma relocation.

But it is uncertain whether the Supreme Court ruling will lead to substantial progress in the stalled relocation plan, which is based on a 1996 agreement between Japan and the United States, given that the Okinawa government may still resort to other measures to block the plan.

The central government has maintained that the plan is “the only solution” for removing the dangers to the civilian population posed by Futenma without undermining the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Onaga, who was elected in 2014, and many Okinawans want the base to be relocated outside the prefecture.

The dispute between the central and prefectural governments developed into a legal fight after Onaga revoked in October 2015 the landfill approval issued by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, in 2013.

The current trial follows a court-mediated settlement in March that laid out steps the central and local governments should take before bringing the case to court again. After several months of stalemate in which both sides stuck to their positions, the central government filed suit against Onaga in July.

In the ruling in September, which was the first judicial judgment on the dispute, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court said the current plan is the only way to address safety and noise problems at Futenma base and that Onaga’s act of revocation was “illegal.”