NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The Naha District Court on Tuesday rejected Okinawa’s latest effort to stop the central government’s ongoing construction work to relocate a U.S. military base within the island prefecture.
The court ruled the lawsuit filed by the Okinawa Prefectural Government is not subject to a trial, referring to a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that said prefectural or local governments cannot bring a suit seeking others to comply with ordinances or rules.
The court also dismissed Okinawa’s request for a temporary injunction against the construction work.
The court decision deals another blow to Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, whose attempt to revoke his predecessor’s 2013 decision to approve land reclamation work was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in 2016.
The central and Okinawa governments have long been at odds over the plan to transfer U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now in a crowded residential area in Ginowan, to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago. The relocation requires land to be reclaimed off the coast.
“We would like to proceed with work toward the base relocation to Henoko and realize the return of (the land occupied by) Futenma airfield as soon as possible,” said Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in Tokyo after the ruling.
The Okinawa government filed the suit last July, claiming Tokyo is acting illegally by not securing permission from the local governor for work that involves damaging rock on the seabed where fishing rights have been granted.
The central government argued that local fishery cooperatives have abandoned their fishing rights and it does not need to obtain such permission from the governor. It also said the lawsuit is not subject to a trial, citing a 2002 top court decision.
The latest judgment could damage Onaga, who already lost a key political election this fall.
Susumu Inamine, the former mayor of Nago who worked side-by-side with him in the anti-U.S. base campaign, was defeated by a central government-backed candidate in a February mayoral election.
Under the plan to transfer the functions of the Futenma airfield to the site adjacent to the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab, the central government is scheduled to reclaim around 157 hectares of land in waters off Henoko to construct a V-shaped runway.
Many residents of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, want the Futenma base to be moved from the prefecture altogether.
Japan and the United States agreed on the return of the land used for the Futenma base in 1996 and announced in 2006 a road map for realigning the U.S. military presence in Japan, which included the airfield’s relocation to the Henoko area.
The state has maintained that the relocation plan is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the perceived deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.