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Gov't officials puzzled by Okinawa Gov. Onaga's remarks over Futenma base transfer

Central government officials cast doubt on the intention of remarks by Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga that he could "repeal" his predecessor's approval of reclamation work for a U.S. military base even if he loses a possible court battle with the central government over the planned transfer of a key U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture.

Last month, the central government suspended work to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the crowded residential district in Ginowan to the less-populated Henoko coastal area of Nago and started holding talks with the Okinawa Prefectural Government after accepting a reconciliation proposal presented by the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court. A senior central government official expressed displeasure at Onaga's recent remarks, saying on April 6, "The talks based on the reconciliation and the judicial processes have only just begun."

In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on April 5, 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." Onaga suggested the possibility of taking action to "repeal," not "cancel," his predecessor's approval of reclamation work in Henoko on grounds of an unacceptable event emerging after the landfill work approval if he loses a fresh court battle with the central government.

A senior Defense Ministry official shrugged off Onaga's remarks, saying, "I don't understand specifically how he will repeal it. I don't think the government will discuss how to respond to his remarks."

A source close to the central government said, "I have the impression that Onaga is trying to move forward fast. I think he may not be able to keep his centripetal force unless he keeps on saying something." The source expressed the view that Onaga has begun to grow impatient because the central government, contrary to his expectations, agreed to hold reconciliation talks with the Okinawa Prefectural Government.

The central and Okinawa prefectural governments have been proceeding to hold talks based on the mutually-agreed terms of reconciliation in hopes of reaching an "amicable settlement." At the same time, the pros and cons of Onaga's revocation of his predecessor's approval of reclamation work will be discussed at the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council, a third-party unit of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, before being judged in court.

The Fukuoka High Court is likely to hand down a ruling on the case as early as August. Whichever side loses the court battle, it will appeal the ruling, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to hand down a verdict possibly between January and February 2017.

The central government is expecting the Okinawa Prefectural Government to shift its policy in the direction of cooperating with the central government after the Supreme Court's verdict as it regards the top court's decision as the "final settlement." But if the Okinawa Prefectural Government is to retain its stance to block the relocation of the Futenma base even after the top court's ruling, the relocation plan could be delayed further.

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