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Government reverses course; north Okinawa aid remains

Date Posted: 2006-12-08

Fueled by a desire to work a deal with Okinawa’s newly elected governor, the central Japanese government has opted to continue an economic development plan for the northern part of Okinawa.

The central government says it will keep the promotion policy in place, despite an earlier decision to drop the program as the fiscal year ends at the end of March. It hopes the move will foster renewed relations with Okinawa Prefecture, which have chilled over controversies surrounding Futenma Marine Corps Air Station’s planned move to Camp Schwab.

Hirokazu Nakaima, who takes over Monday as the Okinawa governor, has said the Futenma move will take place, but disagrees over some elements of the plan, including the V-shape runways planned for the new airfield. He says, though, he’s willing to talk the issue through with the central government.

Moving Futenma is crucial to the government plan to realign American troops in Japan. Shifting 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam before 2014 hinges upon the new airfield being built on a combination of land and landfill at Camp Schwab. The U.S. and Japanese governments initially agreed in 1996 to close Futenma, but plans for a replacement base and airfield were stymied by economic, environmental and political issues.

The present plan is for the airfield to be located at Camp Schwab, and new barracks and other facilities constructed at Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab to house troops being moved north from central Okinawa. Planners envision the new airfield to be operational by 2014.

The central government has also announced plans to extend and expand subsidy and grant programs to Okinawa as a sweetener to accepting the base changes. Nakaima, who campaigned on renewed economic prosperity for Okinawa, sees the new bases, and base realignments, as ideally suited to jumpstart the sluggish Okinawa economy.

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