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Tokyo files suit over Okinawa moves to halt base relocation

An aerial view of Camp Schwab in Okinawa, Japan. The Japanese government filed suit in Okinawa Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in what is largely seen as the first step in the final showdown between Tokyo and Gov. Takeshi Onaga over the closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and the relocation of its flight operations north to Camp Schwab.

JOSE O. NAVA/COURTESY OF THE U.S. MARINES

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 16, 2015

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Japanese government filed suit Tuesday in Okinawa in what is largely seen as the first step in the final showdown between Tokyo and Gov. Takeshi Onaga over the closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and the relocation of its flight operations to Camp Schwab.

Ministry of Justice representatives asked the Naha Branch of the Fukuoka High Court to dismiss Onaga’s revocation last month of a landfill permit that is essential to the construction of a military runway into Oura Bay at Henoko. The permit was issued in 2013 by Onaga’s predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, in exchange for billions in subsidies. The move emboldened a small but fervent protest movement seeking to decrease the U.S. military presence in the tiny island prefecture and pushed Onaga into power late last year.

Further details were not immediately available, but an initial hearing in the case is expected before Dec. 1, according to Japanese media reports.

“The revocation I have made is lawful and justifiable,” Onaga told a news conference last week, refusing an order from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to back down. “I stand firm with my promise of not allowing a new military base to be built at Henoko.”

The construction would be an expansion of the infantry base there, not a “new” base as Onaga and Japanese media often claim.

Onaga vowed during his news conference to appeal to the people of Okinawa, Japan and the world through the court proceedings.

The move to shutter Futenma dates to 1995 when two Marines and a Navy corpsman kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old girl. During the ensuing protests, residents called for the closure and relocation of the Marine Corps air base, which is in a densely populated urban area.

The move was agreed upon during bilateral negotiations a year later, yet it was decided that the operations would remain in Okinawa. In 1997, Schwab and Henoko, in Okinawa’s remote north, were chosen as the relocation site.

Construction began in August 2014, and Onaga was elected in a landslide in November. He vowed to stop the project and reduce the military footprint on the island at all costs.

The small island prefecture is home to more than half of the U.S. troops stationed in Japan, and it accounts for less than 1 percent of its total land mass.

U.S. officials have remained committed to the project, saying there are no other good options. The issue has been further complicated by Chinese designs on Japan’s resource-rich southern island chain.

Scholars have long predicted the Henoko issue would be decided by the courts. Neither side has been willing to compromise through tense negotiations over the past year.

burke.matt@stripes.com

sumida.chiyomi@stripes.com

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga has vowed to reduce the U.S. military footprint on the island at all costs.
ROYCE DORMAN/COURTESY OF THE U.S. MARINES

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