The bitter dispute between the central government and Okinawa prefectural authorities over a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, another city in the prefecture, is now set to return to court.
The prefectural assembly voted July 14 to approve Governor Takeshi Onaga’s proposal to seek a court injunction to stop ongoing reclamation work to build a new U.S. military facility to replace the Futenma air base, located in the crowded city.
Many people may have assumed the court battle between the central and prefectural government over the Futenma relocation plan was finally finished when the Supreme Court in December rejected Onaga’s case seeking to revoke his predecessor’s permission for reclamation work off Henoko.
But it has become clear that serious legal questions persist about the way the central government is forging ahead with the project. The prefectural government has good reason to initiate new legal action.
What exactly is at stake here?
The reclamation work inevitably involves destroying reefs in the offshore area, and this requires the governor’s approval.
The permit issued by Onaga’s predecessor to do so based on prefectural regulations expired in March.
But the central government nevertheless went ahead with the reclamation work, saying the governor’s permission was no longer needed because the local fishermen’s cooperative last year waived its fishing rights in the area.
The Fisheries Agency, however, once speculated that even though the cooperative had abandoned its fishing rights that didn’t totally eliminate fishing rights in the area.
According to this view, reclamation work involving the destruction of reefs anywhere in Japan can only be undertaken after the governor takes the necessary steps to invalidate fishing rights.
Has the Fisheries Agency changed its position on the issue? If so, when did it do so and for what reason?
The Okinawa prefectural government asked the agency these questions, but has yet to receive a convincing answer.
During this year’s regular Diet session, which ended in June, an opposition lawmaker criticized the government’s approach to sidestepping this legal issue, saying this is not the kind of measure a country under the rule of law should take.
The reclamation work at Henoko raises important questions about the principle of the fairness and administrative neutrality as well as the proper legal procedures for such actions guaranteed by the Constitution.
The work to create landfill around Henoko for the eventual construction of a runway for the U.S. military is continuing without the government addressing the questions.
A recent series of elections for local government chiefs and assemblies in the prefecture has generated a mood of resignation about the relocation plan due to the poor showings of forces supporting Onaga.
But a tenacious local protest against the plan still continues, and there are troubling signs of a widening rift among local residents.
After World War II, tracts of land and many houses in Okinawa were forcefully seized by “bayonet and bulldozer” to build U.S. military bases.
Now, local residents are angered and frustrated at over the fact that the government of their own country is forcefully constructing a new U.S. base.
Let us remember the opinion presented in June last year by a third-party panel named the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council, which had tried to mediate the legal dispute between the central government and Okinawa over the Futenma relocation plan.
“The best path for both sides to take is to hold sincere talks to achieve their common goal of Futenma’s return (to Japan) and make efforts to find an answer acceptable (for both),” the panel said.
We repeat our appeal to the government. Stop the work at Henoko and start talks over the plan with the prefectural government.
–The Asahi Shimbun, July 15