Ultimately, it will not be easy to settle the tug-of-war between the central government and the Okinawa Prefectural Government over the construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko, a district of the northern Okinawan city of Nago, to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, further south in Okinawa, in court. The two parties will reach a true resolution only through frank discussion.
In a case brought before the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, the state sued Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, arguing that his revocation of his predecessor's approval for the central government to reclaim land in preparation for the construction of the Henoko base was illegal. The court ruled entirely in favor of the central government.
The ruling stated unequivocally that "there is no other option but to construct the new facility in Henoko to remove the damage generated by the Futenma base." As for the state's argument that a replacement base could not be built anywhere outside the prefecture, the court agreed, saying the argument should be respected because "it is reasonable, considering what has happened in the 70 years since the end of World War II and the current state of global and regional affairs."
The Okinawa Prefectural Government is set to appeal.
"The court's decision belittles local autonomy and tramples on the Okinawan people's feelings. It is excessively skewed in favor of the central government," Onaga said of the ruling. He indicated that he intended to use all means available to block construction of the Henoko base.
We do not know how the Supreme Court will rule on the case. But even if it were to rule in favor of the central government, governors have a certain level of authority, meaning there would still be some countermeasures available to Gov. Onaga.
For example, instead of "revoking" a previous approval for landfill work in Henoko, Onaga could "take back" or "withdraw" the approval. Whereas a "revocation" is based on errors in the procedures that led to the initial approval, a "withdrawal" is based on changes in circumstances after an approval has been made.
Furthermore, if any part of the construction plans were to require changes, the central government would once again have to obtain the approval of the Okinawa governor. If the governor does not grant that approval, construction would come to a halt.
Presiding Judge Toshiro Tamiya of the Fukuoka High Court's Naha Branch has also dealt with a previous execution-by-proxy lawsuit between the central and the prefectural government. In that case, in which Tamiya recommended a settlement, he stated that even if the state were to win, legal battles over the case could continue. He suggested that the central and prefectural governments were meant to reach the best solution for the problem at hand through discussion.
In the latest ruling, Tamiya likewise stated that reaching a solution through mutual compromise is necessary in keeping with the spirit of the Local Autonomy Act, which stipulates that central and local governments are in a relationship of equality and cooperation. But having said that, he continued that he saw no toehold for a resolution through discussion between the two parties under the current circumstances, offering that observation as the main reason for his ruling.
When ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai met with Gov. Onaga recently, he is said to have touched upon Okinawa's history of buttressing postwar Japan's national security. Onaga subsequently revealed that "such remarks had never been made by the prime minister's office in our discussions," and criticized the Abe administration's icy attitude toward Okinawa, saying, "There's a big difference between discussion that's carried out as one builds a big wall, and a discussion in which the parties are willing to listen."
The central government has lacked the intent to truly and seriously debate with Okinawa, although it may have gone through the motions. It must take greater efforts to reach a solution through discussion.