Hashimoto tries to assuage Okinawa with aid

As local antipathy lingers over the concentrated presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa, the government of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has been trying to show its willingness to help bring sustainable economic growth to the southernmost prefecture independent from state subsidies, a long-cherished wish of Okinawa.

But it remains to be seen when and whether the people of Okinawa can get what they really want. The central government has proposed a package of 34 projects ranging from infrastructure programs to a series of deregulatory and economic promotional measures to improve the overall business environment.

For instance, the package calls for introducing an advanced telecommunications network, upgrading port facilities and creating an integrated multilayered transportation system to ensure a smooth flow of people and goods. The measures are meant to help achieve Okinawa’s aspiration to become an international port center serving as a core transit station for expanding trade in Asia.

Although it is a remote island prefecture from Tokyo’s point of view, both the central and local governments see Okinawa on a greater scope as an area of great geographical advantage, located in the very middle of East Asia with major cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei within a radius of 3,000 km. The government set aside 5 billion yen from the fiscal 1996 supplementary budget for a feasibility study on those projects, in line with Hashimoto’s promise to Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota in September.