Henoko lawsuit settlement proposals include suggestion of 30-year use limit for base

Henoko lawsuit settlement proposals include suggestion of 30-year use limit for base

February 3, 2016, Ryukyu Shimpo

After Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga withdrew the permit to reclaim land in Henoko, Nago for the construction of a U.S. military base, he was sued by the Japanese government, which sought the authority to approve the land reclamation by proxy, arguing that the governor’s withdrawal of the permit was illegal. Partway through the trial at the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, presiding judge Toshiro Tamiya urged the two parties to come to an out-of-court settlement, presenting two potential compromise proposals. The content of the two proposals was made public on February 2. One proposal, touted as a “fundamental solution,” suggests that Okinawa reverse its withdrawal of the permit, in exchange for with the Japanese government should negotiate with the U.S. to have the new base either returned to Japanese administration or turned into a joint military-civilian airport sometime within thirty years of being built. The other proposal, a “provisional solution,” suggests that the Japanese government withdraw the lawsuit, suspend construction of the base, and enter into talks with the Okinawa prefectural government. If the talks prove unfruitful, the proposal suggests that the government then file a different, less legally forceful type of lawsuit to verify the legality of the permit withdrawal. Judge Tamiya also announced that if the parties refuse to accept either of the compromise proposals, a final verdict will be handed down on April 13.

This is the first time a court has proposed, as an option for settling out of court, that a Japanese prefecture accept the construction of a U.S. military base.

Because the “fundamental solution” proposal, which stipulates that the Japanese government negotiate with the U.S. to have the base returned within 30 years, goes against Governor Onaga’s campaign pledge to prevent the Henoko base from being built, it is unlikely to be accepted by Okinawa. It is also unlikely that the Japanese government would accept a proposal placing a time limit on the use of a U.S. military base.

Judge Tamiya recommended that the two parties reach an out-of-court settlement at the end of the trial’s third hearing on January 29. The two compromise proposals were announced thereafter during a session of ongoing private talks between the two parties. The court urged both parties not to publicize the content of the two proposals.

Speaking to the press on January 29 after the hearing, Governor Onaga said that the out-of-court settlement proposals had come as a complete surprise, and that he would proceed to review the proposals while consulting with relevant players. On the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told the press that the government will proceed to investigate whether it can accept either of the proposals.

The team of lawyers representing Governor Onaga argued that in order to review the two proposals, it must provide relevant information to the Okinawa prefectural assembly. On February 1 the team put in a request to the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court asking that it be permitted to disclose the information to prefectural assembly members. According to the lawyers, the court said it would review the request after also receiving the opinion of the government on the matter.

If the trial proceeds, Governor Onaga will be questioned on February 15. On February 29, Nago mayor Susumu Inamine will be questioned as a witness, and the trial will conclude on the same day.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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