Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has refused to approve a design change related to a planned U.S. base relocation within Japan's southernmost prefecture.

In response to a lawsuit filed by Japanese land minister Tetsuo Saito last week, seeking to approve the design change on behalf of Tamaki, the Okinawa governor said Wednesday, "I cannot accept the purpose of the request."

Explaining the reason for refusing to approve the design change, Tamaki told reporters at the prefectural government office in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, "I thought it was necessary to deeply accept the fact that the desire of people in Okinawa to live peacefully and quietly with a sense of security has been expressed in elections."

The governor said he will assert his view in court that local governments and the central government are on equal footing.

The land minister filed the proxy execution lawsuit after Tamaki refused to follow the central government's order for him to approve the design change, which is related to the plan to build a replacement facility in the Henoko coastal district of Nago, Okinawa, to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Base from a heavily populated area of Ginowan in the same prefecture. The land ministry applied in 2020 for Okinawa's approval of the design change following the discovery of soft ground in an area off the coast of Henoko.

The central government claimed that the governor's disapproval "seriously harms the public interest." In response, Tamaki said, "There is a considerable gap between what the central government says is the public interest and what people in Okinawa think is the public interest."