Okinawa gov. refuses to approve change to U.S. base transfer plan

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said Thursday he will not approve the central government’s planned design change for the relocation of a key U.S. military base within the southern island prefecture, a decision that could lead to a legal battle.

Tamaki has been calling for dialogue with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida over the controversial transfer plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in a residential area of Ginowan, to the less populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago, but the central government has shown no signs of responding.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki attends an Okinawa prefectural assembly meeting on Nov. 25, 2021. (Kyodo)

Refusing to approve the application submitted in April last year by the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau to address weak ground found in a planned reclamation area will be the prefecture’s “trump card,” according to a local assembly member. The central government is expected to take immediate countermeasures, with a court fight likely to ensue.

After decades of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, many people in Okinawa want the Futenma base to be relocated outside the prefecture, frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents linked to the U.S. bases.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the same day the central government maintains its view that the relocation to Henoko is the only solution, citing the need to ensure deterrence under the Japan-U.S. alliance and remove the dangers posed by the Futenma air base at the same time.

“We will do our utmost in realizing the return of the (land occupied by) the Futenma air base at the earliest date while continuing to make efforts to gain the understanding of local people,” he said at a regular news conference.

Even if the change is approved, it is expected to take at least 12 years until the start of operations at the new base, with the project’s costs totaling around 930 billion yen ($8.06 billion).

Since receiving the application, the Okinawan prefectural government has sent around 450 questions to the Defense Ministry asking for more details about the plan.

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