At odds over new US base, Tokyo warns Okinawa of smaller revitalization budget

Former Naha mayor Takeshi Onaga defeated incumbent Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in November 2014 to become Okinawa's next governor.


By ERIC JOHNSTON | (Tokyo) Japan Times (TNS) | Published: January 8, 2015

(Tribune Content Agency) — The Japanese central government, irked by the election of a new Okinawa governor opposed to its plan to build a new U.S. military base in the Henoko district of Nago, has indicated that the prefecture’s development budget for fiscal 2015 could be less than it requested.

However, the government also has said it plans to increase construction-related funding in the next fiscal year for the base, which will serve as a replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in central Okinawa.

At a news conference earlier this week, Shunichi Yamaguchi, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, said the 2015 budget for Okinawa revitalization may be below the 379 billion yen ($3.19 billion) sought by the prefectural government last year.

“Basically, there’s almost no example of a requested budget being approved as is. What’s important is to figure out how to guarantee an amount that is necessary,” Yamaguchi said.

Takeshi Onaga was elected governor last November, defeating incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima on an anti-Henoko platform that galvanized the support of a broad section of Okinawan voters, including many who usually vote for the Liberal Democratic Party’s local candidates.

Central LDP headquarters, angry at Onaga for opposing the base, declined to invite him to attend a party committee meeting on Thursday, where the Okinawa budget will be discussed. Past committee meetings have included Nakaima.

A spokesman for the Okinawa prefectural government said Onaga will visit Tokyo again Jan. 14 for further Okinawa budget discussions. A meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also being discussed, he said.

In December 2013, Nakaima agreed to approve a central government application for a base-related landfill project. In return, Abe promised that Okinawa would receive at least 300 billion yen ($2.5 billion) in assistance annually until fiscal 2021, Nakaima said,

In recent months, the central government has stepped up efforts to get the base built. In late December, the Defense Ministry indicated it would request 150 billion yen ($1.26 billion) for base-related construction in fiscal 2015 — double the amount the ministry received in fiscal 2014.

Any attempts to forcibly build the base that overrides local protests could create even greater resentment toward Abe and the LDP in Okinawa. That, in turn, could lead to problems between Tokyo and Washington, especially in the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. That committee is chaired by Republican Sen. John McCain, who has proposed that the Henoko plan be scrapped.

Onaga has said he wants to visit Washington at the earliest possible opportunity to make his case against the Henoko base plan. The timing of his visit has not yet been decided.

©2015 the (Tokyo) Japan Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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