Japan makes massive fiscal commitment to Okinawa

In  a stunning announcement at his cabinet meeting Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a promise to earmark at least ¥300 billion out of its budget every year for Okinawa Prefecture development the next seven years.

The commitment comes at a time when the government is aiming to win approval from Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima for landfill work necessary for the planned relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, now in Ginowan, to the Henoko coastal area of Nago, on the Marines’ Camp Schwab and in adjacent Oura Bay.  In monetary terms, the commitment by Abe’s central government works out to about ¥1.8 million for every citizen in the prefecture.

Abe will met Nakaima at the prime minister’s office Wednesday to explain the measures to be implemented under the government’s Okinawa development program, as well as proposals for reducing the burden on Okinawa of hosting U.S. bases.  In its fiscal 2014 draft budget, which was decided at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, the government pledged to set aside ¥346 billion for the development of Okinawa, topping the amount requested by the Cabinet Office.

The remark by Abe has clarified the government’s readiness to support Okinawa’s development not only in the coming fiscal year but much further into the future. In response to the prime minister’s comments, Nakaima released a statement in which he said he is truly grateful for the fact that the government has shown its resolve to comprehensively and actively promote Okinawa development from a long-term perspective and as a national strategy.

At a meeting with Abe and other government officials in Tokyo on Dec. 17th, Nakaima called for the suspension of operations at the Futenma air base within five years. He also called for the revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the U.S. military presence in Japan, in order to reduce the burden on Okinawa.

Japan and the United States have already agreed to transfer Futenma to the Henoko area. Nakaima has called for the base to be moved out of Okinawa, which currently hosts around 70% of U.S. military bases in Japan. Informed sources say Nakaima plans to announce his official decision Friday.