While Saturday marked the first anniversary of the start of landfill work at a planned U.S. base site in the Henoko coastal area in Okinawa, the dispute between the central government and the prefecture is seen heating up further, including over possible project revisions.
At a news conference on Friday, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki denounced the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for ignoring the will of local people and pressing ahead with the “illegal” landfill work.
“It’s an act of trampling on democracy,” Tamaki said.
In a prefectural referendum last February, 70 percent of Okinawa voters rejected the Henoko base project, which calls for building a replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air base in the Okinawa city of Ginowan. The plan is based on a Japan-U.S. agreement.
Ignoring the referendum result, the Abe administration continued the Henoko landfill work. The work has been completed for about 70 percent of sections where the work started in 2018 and about 10 percent of areas where reclamation started in March 2019.
“We lack a trump card to stop the work,” a prefectural assembly member close to Tamaki said.
The prefectural government has launched two lawsuits, both over the land minister’s decision in April to override the prefectural government’s revocation in August 2018 of its approval for the Henoko landfill work.
In one of the lawsuits, however, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court in October dismissed the prefectural government’s claim that the invalidation of the approval cancellation was illegal.
The Abe administration is aiming to have the Henoko work recognized as a done deal, observers said.
“We’ll proceed (with the landfill work) based on related laws and regulations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Friday.
The Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau is poised to speed up the landfill work, planning to shortly deploy a large soil-carrying vessel.
One problem the Abe administration faces, however, is the discovery of soft ground in the eastern part of the Henoko landfill site.
The Defense Ministry is considering placing about 77,000 piles into the ground for reinforcement. Still, it would need to obtain the prefectural government’s permission to conduct the work.
The ministry is expected to apply early next year for such permission, which the prefecture is expected to reject.
The central government could counter by filing a lawsuit, observers said.
The anticipated June 2020 Okinawa Prefectural Assembly election could have major implications for the Henoko base project, they also said.
Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and others supporting the Henoko project “need to win a majority” in the Okinawa assembly, an administration source said.
Suga is set to visit Okinawa next week, apparently in preparation for the prefectural election.
Tamaki, meanwhile, seems keen to help those backing him, including the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, keep a majority in the prefectural assembly.