Revision of base law moves to fast track

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on Mar. 31 announced that he will try to revise a law — hopefully by late this month — to enable the government to legally continue providing land for use by U.S. military bases in Okinawa after leases for some plots expire.

Speaking at a news conference at his Official Residence, Hashimoto indicated that even if he meets resistance by the Social Democratic Party — one of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s non-Cabinet allies — the Okinawa land issue would not automatically lead to the collapse of the loose alliance supporting his minority government.

Later in the day, Hashimoto told a meeting of LDP top executives that he wants to see the amendment enacted before he leaves April 24 for the United States for talks with President Bill Clinton. With the fiscal 1997 budget having passed on Mar. 28, the Okinawa base issue is expected to dominate Diet debate for the remainder of the current 150-day session that runs through June. “I made a decision to make the smallest possible revision,” Hashimoto said, “although I know such a decision will invite criticism (from Okinawa people).”

He reiterated that the government must avoid a situation in which it occupies land for the U.S. without sound legal basis “at any cost” because sabotaging Japan’s duty would “threaten the foundation which Japan stands on.”

Leases on plots owned by some 3,000 anti-base landowners under 12 U.S. military facilities expire May 14. Since it is clear that the prefecture’s land expropriation committee will not complete necessary procedures to renew the leases before the expiry date, the government is likely to lose its legal basis for providing the plots to the U.S. military.

Hashimoto stressed that the proposed amendments will be kept to a minimum. But he added that, in principle, the national government should have direct control over expropriation of land for U.S. military bases instead of leaving authority to local governments. This view has been echoed by some conservative members of the largest opposition party, Shinshinto.