Henoko and Litigation Over Execution by Proxy: The Logic for Tossing Aside Differing Views Over Okinawa

The first round of oral arguments for the national government’s case to find unconstitutional Governor Takeshi Onaga’s revocation of the prefectural approval of relocating American military forces from Futenma (in Ginowan City in Okinawa) to reclaimed areas off the coast of Henoko in Nago City and grant the national government authority of execution by proxy in order to throw out the revocation has begun in the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court.

The cases presented by both the Okinawa Prefecture and the national government reveal a stalemate with no visible room for breakthrough. The government is imposing American military bases on a small island. Just how necessary is a “main island shield” and why can the bases not be moved out of the prefecture or out of the country? Japanese citizens must now turn and face Okinawa.

Governor Onaga stressed in a statement that Okinawa — whose citizens were dragged into the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and where land has been forcibly confiscated by the American Army’s “bayonets and bulldozers” — has been burdened with hosting bases continuously for 70 years since World War II ended. “The government is forcing through the relocation despite the citizens’ protest against relocation to Henoko. Nothing has changed since the days of U.S. Army administration,” Onaga said.

In addition, this paper wants to weigh another statement by Onaga: “Do self-governing municipalities and democracy actually exist? Is the forced burden of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty the norm only on Okinawa? I want to ask these questions to the citizens of Japan.” Onaga strengthened his battle stance by saying, “Forced relocation against the people’s will infringes on self-government and is unconstitutional.”

In response to this, the government claims that “if revocation is allowed, the risks surrounding Futenma will not disappear. Fissures in the Japan-U.S. relationship will emerge, and Japanese interests will be considerably damaged.” The national government’s logic is that a governor who has been given nothing more than fixed authority designated by law does not have the authority to determine the propriety of important matters concerning national security and foreign affairs and so, naturally, local governments should abide by the national government’s decisions.

In April 1996, Japan and the U.S. agreed to return Futenma, and in December 1999, a cabinet decision determined Henoko to be the area for relocation. In December 2013, then-governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved land reclamation activities in Henoko. Looking at the series of events up to this point, the government’s assertion seems to make sense.

However, is it OK to ignore the people’s protests against the relocation that clearly emerged through the results of the gubernatorial, Nago City mayoral and house of representatives elections after that approval was given? Looking at the history of the heavy burden and acceptance concentrated in U.S. base areas in Okinawa exemplified through incidents such as the rape of an underage girl by U.S. servicemen and the crash of a helicopter on a university’s grounds, can we call it democratic when the government’s handling of Okinawa has been to say it will foster a closer relationship, yet it actually continues to ignore the situation? The Abe administration truly cements an image of tossing aside differing views.

If the government position is affirmed in court, the [country’s] minister of land, infrastructure and transportation will be able to repeal a revocation in lieu of action by prefectural governors. In essence, it creates an exceptional measure within municipality law in order to curtail a governor’s authority. Though such a decision would set a strange legal precedent, the national government is confident it cannot lose in this litigation.

With the view that it will take months before it reaches the Supreme Court, it is thought the national government wants to have a judicial ruling before the Okinawan prefectural and national elections slated for some time in June next year. The national government — strongly committed to the idea that “there is no legal defect in approval for land reclamation activity [in Henoko]” – continues explicit strategies of fragmentation and conciliation by, on the one hand, depriving local government of autonomy in the three districts of Henoko, and on the other hand, by giving direct government payouts of local promotion outlays.

We cannot lose sight of the real issue of U.S. bases in Okinawa. “What is being disputed in the courts is not just a simple matter of revocation of an approval,” says Governor Onaga. How are the citizens of Japan hearing his words?

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