Japan's supreme court has ruled in favor of the government's plan to relocate a U.S. Marine airbase on Okinawa, dealing a blow to opponents who want the base off the island.
The Japanese and U.S. governments want the Futenma Air Base in the middle of a crowded city moved to a sparsely populated area for safety reasons. But many Okinawans want it relocated off the island altogether because of noise, crime and accidents linked to the U.S. base.
The supreme court said Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga acted “illegally” when he revoked an October 2015 order by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, for landfill work that would clear the way for relocation of the base. The court made the decision without any hearings.
Okinawa is strategically situated in the East China Sea from where U.S. troops and aircraft can react to potential conflicts throughout Asia. It has been a bastion of American military power since the end of World War II.
“I am deeply disappointed and concerned,” Onaga told reporters after the ruling.
“Building the new base, which cannot gain support from local residents, is unacceptable,” he said.
Washington applauded the ruling.
“We welcome the decision by the Japanese supreme court,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “The United States and Japan remain committed ... to the plan to construct the Futenma replacement facility at the Camp Schwab-Henoko area and adjacent waters.”
The U.S. also announced Wednesday it is returning about 4,000 hectares of forest in Okinawa to Japan that had been used as a training area. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said it was the largest such move in 30 years and would be celebrated at ceremonies Wednesday in Tokyo and Thursday in Okinawa.