The Japanese government sued the local government of Okinawa Island on Tuesday over its Governor Takeshi Onaga’s decision to block the approval for landfill work, which is required for the relocation of a key U.S. airbase within the prefecture, according to media reports. The case comes amid a long-standing row over an increasing mistrust between the central and the local governments as Tokyo tries to satisfy the U.S., its security ally, while there is frustration in Okinawa over a seven-decade presence of the U.S. military.
The Okinawa Island hosts about 75 percent of the U.S. military facilities in the country despite accounting for less than 1 percent of Japan’s total land area. Onaga, who had canceled the 2013 approval for the project in October, had said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP), that he would “do his best” to prevent the central government from building a new U.S. Marine base in a remote part of the island.
While canceling the approval, Onaga also said that the facility was not legally sound, which led Tokyo to seek court action, AFP reported. Tokyo filed a lawsuit in a regional court in Okinawa asking the court to nullify Onaga’s cancelation of a landfill permit. The permit is needed to transfer the Futenma base to the scantily populated Henoko coastal area of Nago in Okinawa, from the crowded residential district of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, Kyodo News reported.
"The legal action was necessary in order to remove danger associated with the Futenma air base," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, according to AFP. If the court rules in favor of Tokyo, it would allow Keiichi Ishii, Japan's land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister, to override Onaga’s revocation.
Local residents have reportedly demanded that Futenma base should be closed and a replacement built outside the prefecture or overseas.
The idea of moving the Futenma base was first discussed between the U.S. and Japan in 1996. Okinawa is considered as a significant region from where the U.S. troops and aircraft can react to possible conflicts throughout the region, AFP reported. About 19,000 U.S. marines are reportedly hosted in Okinawa.