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Tokyo dangles new incentives to Okinawa for airbase support

Date Posted: 2006-02-16

The Japanese central government is opening a new public relations barrage to gain Okinawa’s support for the new airbase to be located at Camp Schwab in Nago.

As opposition to the proposed airfield builds, Tokyo is offering large development aid programs to the prefecture to enhance both air and rail infrastructure. Both the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito are working with the government to promote the projects. The national government had planned a Y10 billion aid infusion to Okinawa in 2000, but much of that money was shelved when the Henoko plan for moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to the Nago area came apart.

A cornerstone of the new plan is a rail project linking Naha with Nago City. Okinawa has no rail transportation system except the 12.9 kilometer monorail system, Yuirail, in Naha. Nago, situated 65 kilometers north of the capital city, is forced to rely on private transportation systems such as taxis and busses to get visitors to its location.

It appears the government is willing to toss money to Okinawa to fund some long sought airport improvements in exchange for new considerations on the Futenma issue. Naha International Airport is a shared facility with commercial aviation and the Air Self Defense Force. More than 57,000 take offs and landings were accomplished on the 3,000 meter runway in 2004, and officials say that’s too much for one runway.

About 20 percent of the air traffic is attributed to the JASDF, but officials say problems with JASDF aircraft often make airport closures necessary. They say an additional runway is needed, and Okinawa Prefecture has proposed it be built. A plan proposed by Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga is to build a new runway in the waters adjacent to the existing Naha International Airport, and use it for military traffic.

Initial reports from Tokyo suggest the new campaign will also inject money into the Okinawa economy to develop and improve the already difficult road network, and to provide additional money to improve the ferries systems linking the islands to each other and to mainland Japan.

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