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Onaga says he could 'repeal' landfill work approval over Futenma base transfer

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga speaks in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on April 5, 2016. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said on April 5 that he is open to the idea of "repealing" his predecessor's approval of land reclamation work for a U.S. military base even if he loses a possible court battle with the central government over the planned relocation of a key U.S. military base within the southern island prefecture.

Onaga gave an interview to the Mainichi Shimbun ahead of the 20th anniversary on April 12 of the agreement between Japan and the United States to close the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Station Futenma and return the land on which the base sits to the people of Okinawa. The central and Okinawa prefectural governments have been holding talks after a court-mediated settlement that demanded both sides hold talks in hopes of reaching an "amicable settlement" of issues concerning the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Station Futenma. In the interview with the Mainichi, Onaga said, "If there is an event unacceptable to us emerging after the approval of reclamation in Henoko, I will also eye the possibility of repealing it." It is the first time Onaga has referred to the possibility of "repealing" the approval for landfill work.

There are two possible ways to legally nullify the landfill approval issued by Onaga's predecessor: "cancelling" it if there is a flaw (legal problem) in examinations prior to the approval; and "repealing" it if Onaga seeks to nullify the approval on the grounds of an event taking place after the approval. Onaga "cancelled" the landfill approval in October last year. The national government sued Onaga in a bid to revoke his decision, but they subsequently reached a court-mediated settlement.

The followings are Onaga's answers to questions from the Mainichi:

Q: What do you think of the fact that Futenma has not been returned to the people of Okinawa even 20 years after the Japan-U.S. agreement?

A: It is very regrettable that it has been moving as slow as a snail. A major reason for the little progress is that even though 73.8 percent of U.S. military facilities have always been placed in Okinawa, which is 0.6 percent of Japan's total area, since the end of World War II, the central government has been trying to settle the matter within Okinawa Prefecture while casting a condescending eye on the pains inflicted on the people of Okinawa. There is no base, including Air Station Futenma, which the people of Okinawa themselves have offered to host. If a new base is built in Henoko, they would say it can be used for another 100 years and 200 years. For the people of Okinawa Prefecture, it is absolutely unacceptable.

Q: Are there misunderstandings about Okinawa on the part of the people of mainland Japan and the central government?

A: There is a possibility that the misunderstanding that Okinawa subsists on (U.S. military) bases is serving as an excuse for the people of the mainland and the central government. Immediately after the war, revenues from bases accounted for 50 percent of the gross income of the people of Okinawa, but when Okinawa was reverted to Japanese administration in 1972, it stood at 15 percent and now it is 5 percent. From the standpoint of protecting the rights of the people of Okinawa and developing the economy, our very honest feeling is 'We don't want U.S. military bases. Enough is enough."

Q: How would you respond if you were to lose in a fresh court battle after reconciliation talks break down?

A: If the central government files an application to change the landfill work, we will naturally respond in accordance with the law. If there is an event unacceptable to us emerging after the approval of reclamation in Henoko, I will also eye the possibility of repealing it.

Q; How would you realize the return of Futenma?

A: I have no intention at all of resisting or standing against the government. As one of the people of Japan, I have been making legitimate demands based on the environment in which Okinawa is placed. By having Okinawa assert itself, I want many people of Japan to feel the real meaning of local autonomy and democracy. I also want all the people of Japan to think about their country's security. While the issues of military bases in Okinawa remain unresolved, I believe that Japanese and American democracy will never win recognition from the international community. The Japan-U.S. security structure will increasingly become a house of cards.

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