Japanese court orders approval of modified Marine Corps runway plan

TOKYO — A Japanese court on Wednesday ordered Okinawa’s governor to approve the central government’s amended plan for landfill work at the planned relocation site of a key US military base on the southern island, despite persistent opposition and protests from residents.

The decision will move construction to a halt at a time when Okinawa’s strategic importance is becoming critical to the Japan-US military alliance in the face of rising tensions with China. Japan is also rapidly seeking to strengthen its military in the southwest region.

The decision by the Fukuoka High Court’s Naha branch allows the Ministry of Lands and Transport to order amendment work aimed at strengthening the extremely soft ground at the designated relocation site of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, overruling Gov. Denny Tamaki’s disapproval . The ruling ordered Tamaki to issue the approval within three business days.

Tamaki said it was unfair that the will of the residents was being crushed by the central government.

Tamaki, noting the spirit of local self-government and democracy, said in a statement that the decision to allow the government’s violent execution of the planned construction of a new military base is “absolutely unacceptable.”

If completed, the new site will serve as a key Marine Corps installation for the region and will also house the MV-22 Ospreys which are currently deployed in Futenma.

Tamaki can still appeal to the Supreme Court, but the local government at this point has no power to stop work unless the high court overturns the decision.

Okinawa and the central government have long been at odds over the relocation of the Futenma base.

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The Japanese and US governments initially agreed in 1996 to close Futenma Air Station a year after the rape of a schoolgirl by three US servicemen led to a massive movement against the bases. However, persistent protests and lawsuits between Okinawa and Tokyo held up the plan for nearly 30 years.

Japan’s central government has begun restoration work off Henoko Bay on Okinawa’s east coast in 2018 to pave the way for the relocation of the Futenma base from its busy neighborhood on the island.

The central government later discovered that large areas of the designated restoration site are on soft ground, which some experts described as “soft as mayonnaise”, and revised the original plan with additional land improvement. But the Okinawa prefectural government rejected the revision plan and suspended restoration work.

The ground improvement plan calls for tens of thousands of pylons and huge amounts of soil, which opponents say would harm the environment. According to the Defense Ministry, it is expected to cost 930 billion yen ($6.5 billion), 2.5 times the original estimate, and take 12 years to complete.

The Supreme Court in September rejected Okinawa’s appeal of another lawsuit that ordered the prefecture to withdraw its rejection of the amended landfill plan.

Tamaki called for a significant reduction in the US military on the island, which hosts more than half of the 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan under the bilateral security pact. Tamaki also called for the immediate closure of the Futenma base and the abolition of the construction of the base at Henoko. Okinawa represents just 0.6% of Japan’s land area.

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Tokyo and Washington say relocation within Okinawa, rather than moving elsewhere as many Okinawans are demanding, is the only solution.

“We believe that immediate action should be taken in accordance with this decision,” said Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi. He pledged that the government will continue to make efforts to return Futenma Air Station as soon as possible to reduce the burden on the base.

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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