• Defense & Security

Japan Land Minister OK’s Design Changes for Okinawa Base Relocation; First Case of ‘Execution by Proxy’ under Law (Update 1)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito declares on Tuesday that he will approve the application for design changes related to the U.S. base relocation in place of the Okinawa governor.

Land minister Tetsuo Saito approved on Thursday design changes necessary for the relocation of a U.S. military base in Okinawa — acting in place of the Okinawa prefectural government, which had refused to give its approval.

The Defense Ministry will therefore resume as early as mid-January full-scale construction work in a new area of Henoko in Nago, where the functions of the U.S. Futenma Air Station in Ginowan are to be relocated.

This is the first time that the central government has engaged in so-called execution by proxy, meaning it acted in place of a local government, based on the Local Autonomy Law.

At around 10 a.m. on Thursday, a Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry official delivered a certificate of approval from Saito to an official of the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau. The bureau had applied to the Okinawa government for the design change.

“Since the Okinawa governor did not approve [the design change] by the deadline of Dec. 25, I approved it on behalf of the governor,” Saito said in a written statement.

Regarding the execution by proxy, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters at the prefectural office on Thursday morning, “I have to say it’s unfortunate, because it infringes on the autonomy and independence of Okinawa Prefecture.”

In 2020, the central government applied to the Okinawa prefectural government regarding work to improve about 66 hectares of soft seabed discovered within the northern part of the planned reclamation area. However, the Okinawa governor refused to approve the application, resulting in a lawsuit.

Although the Supreme Court ruling in September finalized the defeat of the prefectural government, Tamaki continued to refuse to grant his approval, and on Dec. 20, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court ordered Tamaki to approve the application.

Tamaki again refused and announced Wednesday that he had filed an appeal against the ruling.

However, the execution by proxy will remain in effect unless the Supreme Court overturns the ruling. Construction work cannot be stopped by an appeal.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki speaks to the press at the prefectural office in Naha on Thursday morning.