National

Minister suspends Okinawa's move to block Futenma base relocation

JIJI

Land minister Keiichi Ishii on Tuesday decided to suspend the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s withdrawal of its approval for landfill work necessary for the planned relocation of a U.S. base within the prefecture’s main island.

Ishii approved a petition filed earlier this month by the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau.

The bureau plans to promptly resume the landfill work that’s needed for construction of a new military facility in the Henoko coastal area of Nago. The facility would take over the heliport functions of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, sources familiar with the situation said. The Futenma base is currently located in a densely populated area in Ginowan.

Gov. Denny Tamaki, who opposes the plan and instead wants the Futenma base relocated outside of the prefecture, criticized the minister’s decision. “I can’t help but feel strong resentment,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

Tamaki suggested that the prefectural government will take countermeasures, including filing a request for the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council, a third-party panel of the internal affairs ministry, to examine the minister’s decision.

According to the land ministry, Ishii’s decision to suspend the withdrawal of the landfill approval will take effect Wednesday, when the bureau receives the notice of his decision.

Explaining the reasons behind his decision, Ishii told a news conference that the Okinawa government’s move would make it difficult to eliminate the dangers posed by the Futenma base at its current location.

Ishii also said the prefecture’s decision would cause diplomatic strife for the country and threaten national security due to possible negative effects on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said at a separate news conference that his ministry aims to resume work to relocate the base soon after preparations are made.

A referendum on the planned transfer of the Futenma base is expected to be held in the prefecture by spring next year.

The relocation work has been suspended since the prefectural government withdrew its landfill work approval in late August in line with the will of the late Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who died of cancer earlier in the month. The approval was made by Onaga’s predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima.

To counter the prefecture’s move, the Okinawa Defense Bureau asked the land minister on Oct. 17 to review the prefectural government’s withdrawal of the approval, under the administrative complaint review act.

It also filed a petition the same day for a pause to invalidate the withdrawal until a decision is made on the review request.