National

Japan's land minister voids Okinawa's move to halt construction of U.S. base at Henoko

JIJI

Land minister Keiichi Ishii said Friday that he has decided to nullify a move by the Okinawa Prefectural Government aimed at halting reclamation work for a planned U.S. base off the Henoko district in Nago.

Last August, the prefectural government canceled the landfill approval made in 2013 by then-Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, citing the subsequent discovery of soft ground at the work site and a lack of environmental protection measures such as the preservation of coral reefs.

But Ishii told a news conference Friday that there was no reason to void the reclamation approval, because it is possible to carry out the work after stabilizing the soft ground. He also said that environment preservation measures have been implemented based on instructions from experts.

Ishii made the decision after screening a nullification request by the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Bureau under the administrative complaint review law.

The decision — made by a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet, which is promoting the construction of the replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan — may spark strong criticism in Okinawa, where more than 70 percent of voters opposed the work in a February referendum, observers said.

Later in the day, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya underscored the Abe administration’s resolve to push ahead with the project to relocate the base, saying that the central government aims to realize the full return of land occupied by the current base as soon as possible.

Prior to his final decision, Ishii had suspended the revocation of the landfill approval upon receiving the Okinawa Defense Bureau’s complaint.

In response, the Okinawa government brought the case to a third-party panel under the internal affairs ministry, claiming that the suspension was illegal.

After the panel dismissed Okinawa’s claim, the prefectural government took the matter to the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court on March 22. The case is pending.