22 March 2016

Japan demands Okinawa allow reclamation permit

National government orders Okinawa to reinstate permit, Okinawa to file objection with dispute committee

Ryukyu Shimpo

On March 8, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii sent Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga an official order to revoke his nullification of the Henoko land reclamation permit. The permit is needed to implement the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. The order is expected to arrive in Okinawa by mail on March 8. The order holds that Governor Onaga’s nullification of the permit was unlawful, and demands that he revoke the nullification by March 15. The Okinawa prefectural government plans to reject the order, meaning that within seven days from the day after the order is received, the prefectural government will file an official objection to the order with the Committee for Settling National-Local Disputes. After the Committee reaches a verdict on the issue, the Japanese national government and the Okinawa prefectural government will likely face each other in another lawsuit.

The national government had previously brought a proxy execution lawsuit against Okinawa prefecture, hoping for a court ruling that would allow the national government to authorize the permit in place of the local governor. However, the two parties later accepted a settlement recommended by the court. While the agreed-upon settlement did encourage the national government to issue an order for Governor Onaga to revoke the nullification of the permit, it also stipulates that the government must engage in negotiation with Okinawa in an attempt to reach an “amicable solution.” In spite of this, plans for talks have yet to be made. By immediately issuing the order to Okinawa after the settlement was reached, without engaging in any negotiation, the government has shown that it places priority on carrying out the procedures that will lead to a new court verdict. It has become all the more clear that the government intends to push forward with the Henoko base construction.

According to the order issued by the government, Governor Onaga’s nullification of the permit constitutes “an act, as stipulated in Article 245.7.1 of the Local Autonomy Act, in which a prefectural government nullifies a legally prescribed transaction entrusted to it, which is recognized to be in violation of the law.” The order demands that Governor Onaga revoke the permit nullification.

Meanwhile, on March 7, the head of the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) withdrew the formal objection and request for a stay of execution of the governor’s permit nullification that it had made to the national government. The ODB acted in the capacity of a private entity in making these demands, with the aim of temporarily voiding the governor’s permit nullification. The Okinawa prefectural government had filed a protest lawsuit objecting to the stay of execution, which was ordered by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in response to the ODB’s request. However, because the request was withdrawn, the stay of execution will be terminated, and as soon as Okinawa receives notice from the review agency of its termination, the Okinawa prefectural government will withdraw its protest lawsuit.

At a press meeting on the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that it was natural for the government to issue the order based on the content of the settlement terms. He also said that the government wants to engage in talks with Okinawa soon, and that the two parties will discuss how to move forward with negotiations. Defense Minister Gen Nakatani plans to visit Okinawa later this month in order to try to gain acceptance of the relocation plan.

Upon receiving the national government’s order, the Okinawa prefectural government will discuss with its team of lawyers how to proceed. It will likely file a complaint with the Committee for Settling National-Local Disputes as early as next week.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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