TOKYO -- Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced on Oct. 17 that his ministry has sought the nullification of the Okinawa Prefectural Government's retraction of approval for reclamation work to relocate a U.S Marine base inside the southernmost prefecture.
The action took a form of a complaint filed with the land ministry based on the Administrative Complaint Review Act. The central government judged that delaying the legal step further could adversely affect general local elections in April next year and the House of Councillors race during the summer of 2019.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki criticized the central government's action. "It is totally unacceptable because the action tramples upon the will of the people demonstrated in the gubernatorial election," he said.
If the land minister approves the defense ministry's complaint, the prefectural government is considering taking the issue to a third-party panel mediating conflicts between the central and local governments.
Tokyo agreed with Washington in 1996 to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the city of Ginowan in southern Okinawa to the Henoko district of the city of Nago in the prefecture's central area. The move has long been stalled in the face of fierce local opposition. The work to reclaim a section of the sea off Henoko is now suspended, after the prefectural government retracted its permission for the project in August. The prefecture's move was based on the will of the late Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who passed away on Aug. 8.
The central government had planned to start legal procedures to challenge the prefecture's action as soon as the Okinawa gubernatorial election was over on Sept. 30. The election, however, ended in a devastating loss for a candidate fully backed by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and new Gov. Denny Tamaki is against the base relocation. The central government, therefore, took a wait-and-see attitude, fearing that rushing legal action would draw a strong public backlash.
The central government has now decided to take the legal avenue because delaying the move would weaken its position stressing "urgency" in seeking an injunction to block the prefectural retraction. It has also judged that waiting too long will intensify tensions between Tokyo and Okinawa and bring negative fallout on the local and upper house elections.
(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)