Okinawa Prefecture is scrambling to plot its next move in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling siding with the central government’s effort to relocate the operations of a U.S. military base within the prefecture despite fierce local opposition.

People stage a rally opposing the heavy presence of the U.S. military in Okinawa on Dec. 22 in Nago, Okinawa.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga was forced by the ruling to withdraw his action to block work to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in the city of Ginowan, with a new airstrip at the Henoko coastal area of Nago farther north on Okinawa Island. Onaga is now testing the limits of his authority in preparation for what is being seen as the second stage in the battle against the central government.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau is meanwhile poised to start soon the main construction work at the replacement site, as the ruling gave the green light to fill in offshore areas to accommodate runways extending offshore at the Henoko replacement airstrip.

“Our battle to prevent the construction of a new base will make a fresh start,” Onaga said at a news conference on Dec. 20, when the ruling was handed down.

In the second stage of the battle, which follows the court battle that took more than a year, the governor will place the highest priority on “public consensus.”

A senior prefectural official said public consensus is an essential factor in preventing construction of the Henoko base.

Okinawa welcomed last year the return of land used for the Northern Training Area, the biggest transfer of property since the prefecture’s reversion to Japan in 1972.

With the return of the 4,000 hectare site, the share of Okinawa in the total acreage of U.S. military facilities in Japan decreased to 70.6 percent from 74.5 percent.

Unchanged, however, is the fact that the prefecture, which accounts for only 0.6 percent of the country’s total land area, continues to shoulder the heaviest burden resulting from the security alliance between Japan and the U.S.

“It is necessary to once again rally public opinion against (relocating Futenma’s operations to) Henoko,” the official said.

Experts have proposed holding a prefectural referendum to show the Okinawa people’s opposition to the relocation.

Onaga intends to participate actively in public meetings to rally support and mobilize opinion.

But he also faces the logistical problem of how to actually block construction of the new coastal base.

The governor is aiming to achieve that goal by exercising his authority — in not extending the March deadline for the prefecture’s permission to crush reefs, not allowing the collecting and transplanting of coral from offshore areas to be filled in, and by filing requests to change the outlines of the design for the new airstrip.

The prefecture is asking the state for consultations before starting the main construction work, a process that was ensured when the previous Okinawa administration approved the land reclamation.

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made sure in the Diet that the coral reefs that could be destroyed by the landfill work will be transplanted to appropriate locations, Okinawa will urge the central government to fulfill this promise.

Onaga is also planning to visit the U.S. early next month to meet with Congress members and think tank analysts and to seek ways to prevent the relocation to Henoko under the administration of incoming President Donald Trump.

One of Onaga’s goals is urging the U.S. to reconsider the Futenma replacement plan by significantly delaying construction through measures such as retracting the prefecture’s approval of land reclamation.

As Onaga is aiming to send out more information about the situation in Okinawa both within and outside Japan, his efforts will draw attention.


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