Okinawa rejects the Japan’s central government’s demand over US base landfill
Disagreement Over U.S. Military Base Relocation
The governor of Okinawa, Denny Tamaki, has rejected the request of Japan’s central government to approve a modified plan necessary for relocating a key U.S. base within the prefecture. The decision might prompt Tokyo to proceed with a procedure, enabling the Land Minister to approve the plan instead. This disagreement between Tokyo and Okinawa regarding the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less populated area has been a longstanding issue. Despite agreeing to a relocation plan with Washington in 1996, Tokyo continues to face strong opposition from Okinawa residents. The prefecture, already hosting a majority of U.S. military facilities in Japan, is resistant to the relocation.
A Potential Legal Battle
If the governor does not comply with the expected order to accept the plan, the case may be taken to the Fukuoka High Court. In the event of a victory for the central government, the Land Minister could initiate the landfill work necessary for the relocation. This potential legal battle adds another layer of complexity to the already contentious issue of U.S. military base relocation in Okinawa.
Public Opposition in Okinawa
The relocation plan has faced significant opposition from the Okinawa public. Just over 70% of voters, or 434,000 people, opposed the construction of a new base on Okinawa’s northeast coast that will replace the existing U.S. Marine Corps base. Only 19% voted in favor of the move, with a turnout of 52%. Despite acknowledging the strong sentiment of Okinawa residents, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that construction work would continue.
Environmental Concerns and Safety Risks
Critics argue that the proposed relocation site, Henoko, a fishing village on the island’s northeast coast, will destroy the area’s delicate marine ecosystem and pose safety threats to the approximately 2,000 residents living near the site. The new facility is supposed to replace the Futenma airbase located in the middle of a densely populated city, which has attracted complaints about crimes committed by service personnel, noise, and the risk of aircraft accidents close to homes and schools.
Legal Challenges and Future Implications
Political and legal challenges to construction work at Henoko have frustrated U.S. officials who emphasize the strategic importance of maintaining marines on Okinawa. The base’s proximity to potential hotspots in the South and East China seas, as well as the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea, are among the justifications offered for the continued U.S. military presence. The Japanese government maintains that the replacement base is the only way to alleviate pressure on residents living near the Futenma base while upholding Japan’s commitment to its security alliance with the U.S.
However, the proposed relocation has been met with numerous lawsuits, two of which Okinawa Prefecture is likely to lose. The Supreme Court is set to rule against the prefecture on these cases on Sept 4. This legal battle signifies a pivotal moment in the standoff between Okinawa and the central government over the controversial relocation of the U.S. military base.
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