Tokyo tries to soften Okinawa with ¥300 billion budget promise

In an apparent attempt to alleviate tensions between his government and Okinawa Prefecture over the construction of the replacement facility for MCAS Futenma in Henoko, Prime Minister Shinzo pledged to do all he can to earmark more than ¥300 billion ($2.4 billion) for the development of Okinawa in the fiscal 2016 budget. Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga had made a request of ¥300 billion when he had a meeting with Abe on Aug. 7 at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.

In a news conference on the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had stated, “We will promote development of Okinawa as a national strategy. This is something that will be actively promoted.”

The announcement came after the Abe government has seen opinion polls showing his support number going downhill lately, mainly because of the security legislation that Abe is trying to ram through the Diet, but is facing a stiff opposition from almost all quarters of the society. The government apparently fears that its support rate could tank further if the fight with Okinawa gets out of hand.

To sweeten the pot, Abe already had announced on Aug. 4th the suspension by one month of all construction work related to the Henoko plan, during which the government intends to have ‘intensive dialogue’ with Okinawa. The first such meeting took place Monday, when Suga arrived at Okinawa and had a dinner meeting with Governor Onaga. The second meeting took place Tuesday afternoon.

According to many observers, while the truce offers at least a temporary relief from hostilities in relations between Okinawa and Tokyo, prospects for reaching a resolution to the conflict are next to nil. “It will be difficult to make a drastic change in the plans,” a high-ranking official of the central government said before the talks in Okinawa.

Okinawan officials insist that there is no room for compromise with the central government on the relocation. Some are suggesting asking the central government to extend the suspension period indefinitely. “As both sides insist that their position is immutable, the best solution for now would be the extension to become indefinite for now,” an official with the Okinawa side said informally.

13:53 27 Oct , 2016