Tokyo may revise law on U.S. land leases

The government may revise a special law so that it can smoothly extend forced leases on land used for U.S. military facilities in Okinawa Prefecture, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama hinted Feb. 13. It is the first time that Kajiyama, who is responsible for affairs related to U.S. bases there, has pointed out that possibility.

Asked at a news conference if the government is planning the revision, Kajiyama said that the government “hopes it will not be the case” but that the government “may need to keep (the possibility of revision) in mind.” He said the government “must avoid creating a situation in which the government loses the legal rights” to provide land for U.S. bases.

Land leases involving 12 U.S. military facilities and some 3,000 owners expire May 14. The Okinawa Prefectural Land Expropriation Committee is scheduled to launch public hearings for the landowners, a required step in renewing the leases, on Feb. 21. But since the renewal process is expected to take at least six months, Tokyo most likely will be forced to ask the committee to extend leases for another six months as an emergency measure.

It remains unclear if the commission will grant the central government that right because in April it turned down a similar request by the central government for an emergency six-month lease extension for land plots within the Sobe communication facility, in Yomitan. If spurned again, Tokyo will be forced to occupy the land without a sound legal basis.