Execution by Proxy for Henoko Base Project: Okinawa Prefecture Should Not Disregard Judicial Decision

As long as the governor of Okinawa Prefecture defies a judicial decision and refuses to more forward a procedure, it is inevitable that the central government will resort to unprecedented legal steps.

Regarding the relocation work of the functions of the U.S. Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture to the Henoko area in Nago in the prefecture, Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito has announced that he will approve on behalf of Gov. Denny Tamaki design changes to improve soft seabed off the coast of Henoko. The ministry has informed the prefectural government of its plan to carry out a legal procedure called execution by proxy, and it will approve the revisions in place of the governor on Thursday (Dec. 28).

The proxy execution was included in the revised Local Autonomy Law enacted in 2000 to ensure the implementation of the “statutory entrusted function” allocated by the central government to local governments, such as the administration of national elections. If implemented, this will be the first-ever execution by proxy.

The Supreme Court ruling in September this year regarding the design changes finalized the defeat of the prefectural government, and Tamaki was obligated to approve the revisions. However, he did not comply with the ruling. For that reason, the central government filed a lawsuit for the execution by proxy.

In the lawsuit, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court on Dec. 20 ordered the prefecture to approve the design changes by Dec. 25, but Tamaki again refused.

The relocation work is intended to remove the danger of the Futenma Air Station, which is called “the most dangerous base in the world.” It must be said that the prefecture’s stance of sticking to its opposition of the relocation and exposing nearby residents to the risk of harm from noise and accidents is irresponsible.

In fact, the high court ruling pointed out that the danger of the Futenma base “greatly concerns human life and bodies,” and then it harshly criticized Tamaki’s stance that “leaving it unattended infringes on social and public interests.”

Even now, about 70% of the facilities exclusively used by the U.S. military in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture. There is no denying the fact that the residents of the prefecture are forced to bear heavy burdens related to the bases in order to maintain the security of Japan as a whole.

However, even though this the case, a law-abiding nation will cease to exist if an administrative agency disregards the legal system and does not comply with a top court’s ruling. It is hoped that Tamaki will make a calm decision on how he should act as the head of the administration.

The challenges Okinawa faces are not limited to base problems. Per capita income is among the lowest in Japan. Also, the unemployment rate is higher than that on the mainland.

If dialogue between the central and prefectural governments remains stagnant because of the relocation issue, Okinawa will not be able to promote development.

The central and prefectural governments should pool their knowledge and wisdom not only to nurture the conventional tourism industry, but also to attract the information technology and manufacturing industries to the prefecture, thereby vitalizing the prefecture’s economy.

Okinawa is located within four hours by air from major Asian cities, and the prefecture should take advantage of this. The prefecture plans to establish an international organization that will serve as a center for multicultural coexistence. Advancing such a plan is also an option.

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