(Yomiuri: February 18, 2015 – p. 4)
Two months after Takeshi Onaga took over as governor of Okinawa, his conflict with the national government over the relocation of the U.S. forces’ Futenma Air Station has intensified. On Feb. 16, Onaga used his power as governor for the first time to order the Okinawa Defense Bureau to stop preparations for relocation to Henoko in Nago City. If Onaga takes further action from now, the government may resort to filing administrative litigation against him.
Onaga ordered the suspension of work to drop concrete blocks onto the seabed in waters off Henoko. This was an action he took in accordance with the provision in the permit for construction work on the reefs issued by former Governor Hirokazu Nakaima requiring the government to “comply with separate orders issued for public welfare reasons.” Relocation opponents complain that the dropping of blocks “damages the reefs.”
Onaga’s action infuriated a senior government official because permission to place the concrete blocks had been given under the previous governor after going through the required procedures. However, since there are no further plans to drop concrete blocks, Onaga’s order will have limited impact on the construction work.
Nevertheless, Onaga declared on Feb. 16: “We will use every means available to the prefectural government to work for the realization of my campaign pledge of not allowing the construction of the new military base.” He is poised to make use of other gubernatorial powers.
On Feb. 17, he also created a cross-department liaison council in his administration for internal information sharing and enhancement of cooperation.
Onaga assumed office as governor on Dec. 10 after being elected on a platform of stopping the Henoko relocation project. At first, he had plan to wait for a committee to determine whether there were legal flaws in the previous governor’s approval of landfill in waters off Henoko before making a decision on whether to revoke the permission.
However, the examination process by the third party committee which started on Feb. 6 is expected to take until July. Therefore, the governor’s radical supporters began to demand action to stop the construction work because the relocation process may move ahead while deliberations are taking place.
It is reckoned in Okinawa that “Onaga was forced by his supporters to shift to a policy of actively exercising his powers as governor,” according to a source at the Liberal Democratic Party Okinawa chapter.
Meanwhile, the government intends to proceed with the construction work steadily. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed at the House of Representatives plenary session on Feb. 17 that the policy of moving ahead with the relocation plan remains unchanged. Officials at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence say that if Onaga revokes the landfill permit, “our only option will be to file litigation to overturn his decision or for subrogation of administration act.” If the situation develops into a court battle, not only will the administration suffer damage, negative feelings in Okinawa are also certain to be aggravated further. The government will be face a very challenging situation.