Govt counters Okinawa’s rejection of Henoko design changes

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The Defense Ministry on Tuesday took action to counter Okinawa Prefecture’s recent rejection of the central government’s application for design changes in its plan to relocate a U.S. military base in Okinawa within the southernmost Japan prefecture.

The ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau filed a complaint with land minister Tetsuo Saito under the administrative appeal act, demanding a review of the move by the Okinawa prefectural government.

A court battle between the central and the Okinawa governments is highly likely to start if the minister decides to invalidate the prefecture’s rejection of the design change application.

The local defense bureau “filed the complaint as it concluded that there is no reason for the state’s application to be dismissed, and that the prefecture’s rejection of the application should therefore be canceled,” Takeshi Ishikawa, press secretary at the Defense Ministry, told a press conference.

“It’s effectively impossible to make a fair and impartial judgment” as the review will be conducted by a cabinet minister at the request of a government bureau, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters at the prefectural government building in the capital of Naha.

“We conducted a strict review under the principle of public administration by law,” he said, reaffirming the legitimacy of his prefecture’s decision not to approve the design changes.

In April 2020, the Japanese government filed the design change application to drive over 70,000 piles to reinforce soft ground found in part of waters subject to reclamation off the Henoko coastal district in the city of Nago, to which the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air station, now in the city of Ginowan, is planned to be relocated.

The central government argues that the Futenma relocation to Henoko, agreed on between Japan and the United States, is the only viable way to remove the dangers posed by the Futenma base, which is located in a densely populated area.

About 73 hectares of soft soil have been found east of the cape of Henokozaki. The deepest point of the weak ground is believed to lie about 90 meters below the sea surface. Landfill work for the base relocation is being carried out in areas that are not subject to planned design changes.

Last month, the Okinawa government turned down the central government application, saying that necessary research on the deepest point of the soft soil had not been carried out, and that the stability of the ground had thus not been confirmed. It also said that the state had failed to fully evaluate the possible impact of the design changes on the ecology of dugongs.

The Okinawa governor has called on the central government to completely cancel the reclamation work, saying, “Continuing with landfill that might turn out to be effectively meaningless is impermissible.”