Henoko dispute heading for courts

The fight over the construction in Henoko of the replacement facility to MCAS Futenma intensifies and seems to be heading to the courts as both sides are taking measures to counter each others’ moves.

Despite of a written order from Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, the central government intends to continue the work at the new runway construction site off Camp Schwab in Henoko. It countered the governor’s move by filing a petition with Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Tuesday to invalidate Governor Onaga’s order. The agriculture minister is in charge of the laws pertaining to the dispute.

In filing the petition, the central government took the position that it’s the Okinawa governor who’s violating the law. “Onaga’s order is a significant violation of the law,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference on Tuesday after the government submitted its case to the agriculture minister.

As a result, Governor Onaga is widely expected to withdraw the previous administration’s permission to break the reef setting the stage for taking the fight to the courts.

“It’s regrettable that the survey continues,” Onaga told reporters in Okinawa. “I want (the central government) to take my instruction seriously and respond appropriately.”

Speaking before the House of Councilors Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Tokyo, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said, “Onaga’s order is invalid and there is no reason to suspend the current work.”

In submitting the petition to rule illegal the governor’s order to halt the work at the Henoko site, the Okinawa Defense Bureau said that it also asked the agriculture minister to rule in favor of continued work until the case has been dealt with in the courts. Officials at the central government said that they are confident that their view will prevail in any legal battle. They said that it’s important that Japan reassures the U.S. that the project would go ahead without further delay, as Prime Minister Sinzo Abe is scheduled to visit the United States in late April.

However, legal experts say that the eventual lawsuit could lead to a delay in the start of the reclamation from this summer, as currently scheduled.

Meanwhile, The U.S. Department of Defense has taken the position that the construction of the replacement facility for the MCAS Futenma is “a matter for the government of Japan”

“We will continue to fly out of Futenma until the base relocation is completed,” an official at the Pentagon said.

Protesters outside of Camp Schwab applaud the action taken by Governor Onaga. “Some of us started to think that the governor was all talk an no action, but now he has taken the first step towards stopping the construction, and we welcome that,” a protester in Henoko said Thursday.