Ota rejects Hashimoto’s request to back lease revisions

Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota on Mar. 25 turned down Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s request for support for revising a 1952 special land lease law that would allow the U.S. military to legally continue using facilities in Okinawa Prefecture beyond the expiry of forced land leases.

The prime minister unveiled his decision to try to toughen the law during an almost two-hour meeting with the Okinawa governor, Ota told reporters after the meeting. Ota told Hashimoto that he “cannot accept” revision, citing the strong sentiment of Okinawans over the issue. Revising the law is considered offensive to many prefectural residents who have long resented the U.S. presence.

Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama told a press conference that, given the time constraints, the government may submit a bill to revise the law to the Diet, even if the Social Democratic Party continues to oppose revision. Cabinet approval for a bill would be expected by the end of this month at the earliest, and the government may try to have the bill passed by the Diet next month, according to government sources.

During their meeting, Hashimoto also told Ota that Tokyo cannot grant Okinawa’s longtime plea for a reduction in the presence of the U.S. Marine Corps, saying it would be difficult to request it of the U.S. side at this time, according to Ota. Ota told a news conference, however, that the meeting was “meaningful” since it provided both leaders the opportunity to express their opinions in a frank manner. He added that he “understands” — but does not support — the position of the government.

Ota went on to say the state’s determination to revise the law alone would not hamper future negotiations between the state and local governments over other Okinawa base issues, although he added that he will continue to speak for the prefecture. “If both sides negotiate with hostile feelings, no breakthrough will be made in any issues,” Ota said. “A situation in which the trust between the two gets undermined must be avoided.”

Ota said he “cannot answer” at this moment what actions the prefecture may take next to try to get the government to reverse its decision. Hashimoto was quoted as telling Ota that the state “understands” the opposition of the prefectural government but that it “cannot create a situation in which the government has to provide the land (for the U.S.) without sound legal basis.”

Leases for land involving some 3,000 landowners and 12 U.S. military facilities in Okinawa expire May 14.