Futenma Relocation: Why Is Okinawa Prolonging Court Battles with Central Govt?

Is it productive to lock horns with the central government and repeat court battles over the relocation of the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture? Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki should judge the situation with an open mind.

As part of the plan to relocate the Futenma base to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture, the Defense Ministry in 2020 applied to the prefectural government for design changes to reinforce the weak seabed in the coastal area. Because the Okinawa prefectural government did not approve the application, the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister issued a directive to overturn this decision. However, the prefectural government objected to the directive and filed lawsuits against the central government last year.

The upcoming Supreme Court rulings are expected to finalize the defeat of the prefectural government in the lawsuits.

In March, the high court dismissed the cases and the prefectural government appealed to the Supreme Court, but the top court did not hold oral proceedings that are necessary to review the lower court’s decision. It is highly likely that the top court’s rulings, which will be handed down in September, will uphold the lower court’s rulings.

Since 2015, the prefectural and central governments have been at loggerheads in court over the relocation plan. In past court rulings, the prefectural government has lost cases. The prefectural government’s responses are incomprehensible in that it continues to find various reasons to go to court even after judicial decisions have been made.

The relocation plan is aimed at eliminating the danger of the Futenma base, which is surrounded by houses and schools. If an alternative facility is built in the Henoko district, the danger will be eliminated and the return of about 480 hectares of the Futenma site will be possible. The use of the site is also expected to revitalize the economy.

The U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture are strengthening their preparedness for a possible contingency on remote islands. China has been regularly making incursions into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, making deterrence by the U.S. military indispensable.

In the work to reinforce the weak seabed, about 70,000 piles are scheduled to be driven to a depth of up to 70 meters below sea level. The government needs to steadily proceed with the work while giving due consideration to safety.

The relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko has been delayed significantly from the original plan. The completion date of fiscal 2022, which had been targeted by the Japanese and U.S. governments, has passed already, and the current schedule of the “mid-2030s” is also at risk.

Moreover, if the prefectural government continues court battles, the elimination of the danger at the Futenma base will only be delayed.

On the other hand, reducing the burden of hosting military bases is also essential in seeking the understanding of Okinawa Prefecture. In recent years, part of the Northern Training Area that straddles the villages of Kunigami and Higashi as well as the West Futenma Housing Area in Ginowan have been returned to the prefecture side.

The relocation of training exercises is also underway, and in the case of Osprey transport aircraft, training is being conducted in Hokkaido, Kumamoto and other prefectures.

Nevertheless, 70% of the U.S. military facilities in Japan are still concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture. Many residents of the prefecture are troubled over concerns about noise and accidents.

Both the U.S. and Japanese governments must make efforts to realign and downsize U.S. military bases. It is hoped that local governments outside Okinawa Prefecture will also actively cooperate in accepting training exercises and through other ways.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 27, 2023)