The issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture cannot be delayed any further.
How can we avoid a situation in which the air station will remain where it is? The central government must talk with the Okinawa prefectural government earnestly and search for common ground from a broad perspective, including measures to promote the prefecture’s economy.
The central government has proposed a new basic policy for Okinawa Prefecture that centers on economy-promoting measures for fiscal 2012 ― when the current 10-year program ends ― and later. A main pillar of the proposal is the introduction of a lump-sum subsidy the prefectural government could use any way it pleases.
The prefectural government has been pressing the central government to have the entire budget earmarked for promoting its economy turned into a lump-sum subsidy for discretionary purposes, while increasing the budget to 300 billion yen next fiscal year from the 230 billion yen allocated this fiscal year.
The central government plans to work out the details of the subsidy and the overall budget amount when it compiles the national budget for fiscal 2012 at the end of this year.
The prefecture asserts that the issue of the U.S. bases in the prefecture, including the Futenma base, should be dealt with separately from the measures to promote the economy. Although Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has appeared sympathetic, we think this line of argument is unreasonable.
The measures to promote the Okinawa economy, which have been implemented over many years and are substantial, are partly meant as “a reward” for Okinawa’s contribution to national security in the form of hosting a large portion of the U.S. bases in Japan.
Now that it is inevitable to increase taxes and cut government expenditures to finance the post-disaster reconstruction efforts, it will be necessary to explain to the public why the budget for promoting the Okinawa economy should be treated exceptionally.
When we think of Okinawa’s future, the return of U.S. bases to Japan, including the Futenma station, and the effective use of sites where bases are to be vacated are closely linked to the promotion of Okinawa’s economy.
Washington is calling on Tokyo to show tangible results on the Futenma issue, apparently to win the understanding of Capitol Hill, which is seeking a sizable cut in the U.S. defense budget.
The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration has so far trumpeted the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, but has failed to earnestly tackle the Futenma issue.
The government must not forget that Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who until 2009 approved of relocating the Futenma base to the Henoko district in Nago in the prefecture, changed his stance to calling for “relocating the base outside the prefecture,” because of the DPJ-led administration’s misgovernment and lack of policy over the issue.
As Noda has made clear he would do his utmost to explain the government’s viewpoint on the relocation issue to the people of Okinawa and win their understanding so he can make some progress on the issue, he must be ready to assume responsibility for lack of progress on the issue.
The government is considering submitting an environmental impact report for the construction of facilities in Nago by December to Nakaima, and filing an application with the governor, probably by June next year, to reclaim land in waters off the Henoko district.
If the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko is held up, the Futenma base will have to remain where it is, making it inevitable that the planned transfer of U.S. marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture to Guam will be either substantially scaled down or delayed. Such a scenario would be quite an unfortunate development for the people in the prefecture.
The Noda administration must do its utmost to win the approval of Okinawa by mobilizing not only the concerned ministers but also Seiji Maehara, chairman of the Policy Research Committee, and other senior DPJ officials.