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Editorial: Gov't responsible for settling state-Okinawa clash over U.S. base relocation

The battle between the central government and the Okinawa Prefectural Government over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago has evolved into a hopeless mess. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga has recently announced that he would "retract" the approval for landfill work off the coast of Henoko given by his predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima.

In 2015, Onaga "revoked" the landfill work permission, which prompted the central government to bring the case to court. The Supreme Court in December last year ruled that Onaga's revocation of the landfill work approval was unlawful, handing a defeat to the Okinawa Prefectural Government.

The "revocation" measure taken by Onaga the last time was based on possible defects in procedures taken by the state before the approval was given, whereas the grounds for the "retraction" Okinawa will be seeking this time are changes to the state of affairs after the reclamation work was approved.

The prefectural government is considering making a case for the retraction based on the problem of the state continuing the work at the site despite the fact that it has not applied for the renewal of permission for fracturing work on reef rocks, which expired at the end of March, as well as on the violation of terms set by the previous governor at the time of the landfill work approval.

If the permission is retracted, the central government is expected to take countermeasures such as filing for suspension of execution and administrative subrogation. If the prefectural government refuses to comply with the state's orders, the conflict between the two could be dragged to court once again. Furthermore, the state is even considering filing a damages suit over the issue against Onaga himself.

Onaga has recently been placed in a difficult position by a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the state in a case versus the prefectural government, and by the vice governor's resignation over a scandal in which he was suspected of helping certain people during recruitment tests for public school teachers. Consequently, Onaga appears to be in need of a trump card to play.

If Onaga actually retracts the approval, it is necessary to carefully examine whether his action is legally justifiable by listening to his claims. Before arguing about legal issues, however, the central government bears political responsibility for driving Okinawa into a corner.

The state is determined to continue with the landfill work, saying that the matter has been settled at the top court. However, even if a replacement facility for the Air Station Futenma is built in the Henoko area, it would not lead to stable operation of U.S. bases in the island prefecture without the consent of local people.

Questions that Okinawans have -- such as why is the state pushing the relocation work forward while ignoring the will of the people on the grounds of the country's security? Didn't the revision to the Local Autonomy Act dissolve the hierarchical relationship between the national and local governments? -- cannot be answered through legal theories or trials.

The central government should sensibly respond to these questions and win Okinawa's understanding. What is called into question here is how the state and local governments can build a relationship for the new era.

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