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EDITORIAL | Okinawa Loses in Court — the Air Base Has to Go to Henoko

With this Supreme Court ruling, Tamaki should promptly fulfill his legal duty to approve the government's design change for the Okinawa Henoko air base site.



Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki addresses a press conference following the Supreme Court ruling related to the relocation of US Air Station Futenma to Henoko. (© Okinawa Prefectural Office)

Japan's Supreme Court has rejected Okinawa Prefecture's appeal of an earlier ruling in a lawsuit involving its Henoko district. It involves a reclamation project that would allow the relocation of the United States Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its current location in Naha City to Henoko in the northern part of Okinawa Island. 

The prefectural government has strongly opposed the relocation, arguing that it was illegal. However, the top court's decision is considered final.

Governor Denny Tamaki inspects the construction site in Henoko, Nago City, also in Okinawa Prefecture, where the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma will be relocated. Photo of May 19 (©Kyodo)

Off-Kilter Opposition

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki characterized the court decision as "extremely regrettable" and a "matter of deep concern." He added that he would consider future action after carefully reviewing the details of the ruling.

Tamaki also said that he had hoped the court would render a decision "in line with the will of citizens of the prefecture." By that, he meant that the government should abandon relocation of the air base to Henoko.

The governor's reaction was off-kilter. What Tamaki should do as a government official in a nation ruled by law is to accept the final judgment of the judiciary. He should approve the changes in the design of this national construction project.

Henoko coastal area, Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture, where the relocation work of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is underway. Photo on December 12, 2022. (© Kyodo News)

Why the Project is Necessary

After soft ground was discovered in the Henoko coastal reclamation work zone, Japan's Ministry of Defense applied with the prefectural government for design changes to establish a firmer ground foundation. However, the prefecture did not approve the requested design modifications. Furthermore, it did not follow the national government's instructions to correct the situation. The result was the lawsuit in question. 

Following this Supreme Court ruling, Tamaki is legally obligated to approve the central government's design change application. He should promptly fulfill his duty in that regard. 

However, there are calls from "progressive" groups that support Tamaki for the prefectural government to again "disapprove" the national government's request based on other justifications. Those calls are outrageous. Officials in Okinawa should not deviate in such a manner from the rule of law.

The prefecture already is responsible for delaying construction by more than three years. That happened because they did not approve the needed changes to the project design. 

Twenty-seven years have already passed since Japan and the United States agreed in 1996 to the total return of the Futenma Air Station. That return, however, was conditional on the air station's relocation. 

Futenma Air Station is one of the US military bases in Okinawa.

For the Safety of Residents and Defense of Japan

In recent years, the prefecture and the national government have been mired in court battles. And in every case for which there was a court decision, the prefecture lost the case. Enough is enough. 

Futenma Air Station is situated in the midst of a crowded urban area. The relocation to Henoko is being undertaken to ensure the safety of the prefectural residents now living near the Futenma Air Station. It is also designed to protect Japan, including Okinawa, from the growing threats from unfriendly nations such as China. 


Furthermore, after the current site of the base is returned, it can be used to help revitalize the economy of Okinawa. As governor, Tamaki should consider with an open mind what is truly important for Okinawa and its people. And he should fulfill his legal obligations and start cooperating in the relocation.

Meanwhile, the national government must steadily proceed with the relocation work and realize the return of Futenma Air Base. The existence of so many US bases in Okinawa undeniably places a great burden on the prefecture and its people.

We must continue our efforts to consolidate and downsize these installations. Meanwhile, however, we must carefully explain the importance of having the bases, and in particular the importance of the relocation of the air station to Henoko.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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