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The dispute over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to another site in Okinawa has finally developed into a court battle between the national government and the prefecture that hosts the bulk of the U.S. military presence in Japan. The Abe administration appears confident that it can override the local opposition to building the replacement facility off the Henoko area of Nago. But it should also think about the long-term impact a full-blown legal confrontation with the prefectural government would have on Okinawa’s sentiment toward the U.S. bases and possibly the bilateral security alliance itself.

The government on Tuesday filed a lawsuit with the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, seeking a court judgment to empower itself to override Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga’s recent revocation of permission given in 2013 by his predecessor to work on reclaiming land off Henoko to build the new airfield to replace the Futenma base in Ginowan, central Okinawa. If the court decides in its favor and the ruling is finalized, the government plans to act on behalf of the governor to withdraw his revocation and go ahead with the project.

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