Japanese court approves controversial US Marine base project, blocking Okinawa governor’s protest

Protesters raise placards reading"Anger was over the limit"during a rally against the U.S.military presence on the island and a series of crimes and other incidents involving U.S.soldiers and base workers, at a park in the prefectural capital Naha on Japan's southern island of Okinawa,Japan. © Kyodo
Continuing outrage by locals and a bid by the Okinawa governor were not enough to stop the land reclamation intended for the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma facility. The court ruled in favor of the project, but the local government isn’t giving up.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga had campaigned together with the residents of the Japanese island to stop a landfill project that would lay the foundations for a construction of a replacement facility for the American base. The project, situated in the Henoko district, has been the focus of anger in the unfolding saga of residents trying to push the Americans out of Japan’s Okinawa, where they enjoy a massive military presence.

A high court in Fukuoka on Friday ruled that the governor’s attempt to cancel construction was “illegal,” and has given Tokyo the go-ahead to continue construction, the Japan Times reports.

“Even taking into account the desire of Okinawans who seek reductions in the base facilities and see the reclamation as unprofitable, there is nothing lacking in the requirements for approval [of the landfill project],” the court ruling states. “There’s nothing illegal about the previous governor’s approval and because of that, the cancellation of it cannot be upheld.”

But if history is anything to go by, the protests will continue, and the matter will likely go now to the Supreme Court. The court first has to agree to hear the appeal. In case of success, Okinawans will wait for a decision until at least next spring.

The work was previously suspended in March, after Governor Onaga reached an agreement with Tokyo. Onaga previously suspended the construction, and in so doing, canceled the decision made by the previous governor to allow the landfill project. This led to the judge ruling that Onaga’s actions were illegal.

However, as long as the appeal is being processed, construction isn’t likely to restart.

Also helping the Okinawa case was a series of findings obtained by legal experts hired by the governor, which found legal inconsistencies with the landfill project plan, pertaining especially to the environmental impact assessment. The prefecture was then sued by the Transport and Tourism Ministry – which has jurisdiction over landfill-related projects – and responded by counter-suing the government in December to once again halt the project.

This legal wrangling continued through July, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government filed a fresh lawsuit against Okinawa, which culminated in the Fukuoka high court decision this Friday.

The American presence on the island has been marred not only by constant protests, but by serious incidents involving allegations of drunk-driving, rape, and even murder aimed at US personnel. But local discontent seems to be doing little to sway Tokyo, which is firmly in the American camp, as the US pledges to protect its ally from other regional powers with its strategic Okinawa presence.