Abe pledges to reduce Okinawa burdens, improve economy

Walking a fine line to execute measures to protect Japan’s security interests, while at the same time reassuring Okinawa officials he’s got their best interests at heart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun making promises to this southernmost prefecture.

“There are still many U.S. military facilities that are imposing large burdens on the people of Okinawa,”  he told a council working Okinawa issues.  Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and all Japan Cabinet ministers participated in the conference, where they heard Abe promise that his government will make “all-out” efforts to ease Okinawa’s burdens while he fulfills his responsibilities for maintaining the “deterrence” provided by the American military stationed in Okinawa.

The Prime Minister emphasizes Okinawa has “great potential” that could be “a driving force in revitalizing the Japanese economy.”  He predicted “Investment in Okinawa is an investment in the future.”

Governor Nakaima’s concerns were about the Tokyo approach to building the new airfield to replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa.  He’s still urging Abe, as well as Washington, to reverse course and move it out of Okinawa. “It should be relocated to a place that already has a runway”, says Nakaima, arguing that moving Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago City would be difficult.

To demonstrate his government’s sincerity on helping Okinawa, Abe rolled out a new set of subsidies for Okinawa.   Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, in noting it was the first time the council has convened since last May, says the fiscal 2013 Japanese budget has measures to ease Okinawa’s burdens.