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Japan’s High Court OKs Plan to Build U.S. Military Runways in Okinawa

A redesignation ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Photo by Lance Cpl. Natalie M. Rostran/U.S. Marine Corps
A redesignation ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Photo by Lance Cpl. Natalie M. Rostran/U.S. Marine Corps

This week, Japan's Supreme Court dismissed Okinawa's rejection of a central government plan to build United States Marine Corps runaways on the island, ordering the local body to approve it despite protests from civilians against American troops' presence in the area.

The high court upheld the central government's plan, stating that Okinawa's approval was valid. Local officials will now move forward to suspend construction.

Japan's central government began the work at the Henoko area on the eastern coast of Okinawa's main island in 2018 to pave the way for relocating the American Marine Corps' Futenma air station from a crowded neighborhood.

Japan's central government found out about 70% of the reclamation site is on soft ground, prompting them to submit a revision to the original plan with additional land improvement.

The Okinawa prefectural government rejected the revision as insufficient and suspended the work.

According to reports, the ground improvement initiative requires thousands of pillars and massive soil amounts.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki has called for a significant reduction of the American military in Okinawa, the immediate closure of the Futenma base, and the end of base construction in Henoko.

Tamaki said he would not back down and continue with the demands despite the ruling, adding that his government would carefully examine the ruling to decide on a next step.

Despite Okinawa accounting for only 0.6% of Japanese land, 50,000 American troops are based on the island under a bilateral security pact, and 70% of American military facilities are in Okinawa.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno welcomed the ruling, stating that the government hopes to achieve the complete reversion to Japan of the Futenma airfield and relieve Okinawa of the burden of holding American military bases while providing a clear explanation to the local community.

The Japanese government has recently increased its defenses to deal with China's growing military power.

In 1996, Tokyo and Washington agreed to close the Futenma air station following an incident where a schoolgirl was allegedly raped by several U.S. military personnel, prompting an anti-American base movement. As a result, protests and lawsuits between Okinawa and Tokyo have held up construction plans for 30 years.

Related Story: 5 Ways the U.S. is Dealing with New Security Realities in the Pacific

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