The central government has sued the Okinawa Prefectural Government for revoking approval of landfill work off the city of Nago for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in a bid to demonstrate to Washington that Tokyo is determined to steadily go ahead with the agreed-upon relocation.
The state filed the suit on July 22 with the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court under the Local Autonomy Act, seeking a ruling that the governor's failure to follow a national government instruction to "amend" his revocation order is illegal. The move is to stick to the state's schedule of resuming the relocation work in spring next year.
A new administration will be inaugurated in the United States in January 2017 following a presidential election in November this year. If the relocation work were to be delayed any longer, it could spark calls within the next administration for a review of the relocation plan.
The prefectural government has urged the national government to hold talks at venues other than the courtroom over the relocation of the base to the Henoko district of Nago.
However, the central government has deemed that consultations with the prefectural government would be a waste of time because Okinawa has not shown a willingness to soften its opposition to the plan, a senior Defense Ministry official said. Therefore, the state views Okinawa's calls for consultations as a mere attempt to buy time.
The state's decision to go ahead with the lawsuit was also an attempt to gain an advantage in Japan-U.S. negotiations over reducing the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa. "If Japan can convince the United States that Tokyo is truly enthusiastic about relocating the base as planned by steadily going ahead with landfill work, we can draw further concessions from Washington over reducing the burden of bases on all of Okinawa," a government source said.
The first oral proceedings of the suit are scheduled for Aug. 5. The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a final ruling by February or March next year, since an appeal trial is inevitable regardless of the high court ruling. If the top court is to rule in favor of the central government, officials assume that the state would resume stalled work sometime in spring next year.
However, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered a setback in Okinawa in the July 10 House of Councillors election. Incumbent Aiko Shimajiri, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territory affairs, was defeated by a candidate opposed to the relocation plan, who was fielded jointly by key opposition parties, in the Okinawa Prefecture constituency in the poll.
Public opinion in Okinawa is growing critical of the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko. As such, it remains uncertain whether the national government can go ahead with the relocation by receiving an endorsement from the judicial branch, just as it envisions.