LDP, allies agree on Okinawa aid plan

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its two smaller non-Cabinet allies agreed April 10 on a program designed to promote the economic development of Okinawa Prefecture and help it achieve financial independence. The program suggests that a large part of the island prefecture be turned into a free-trade zone under some sort of “one-country, two-system” formula, to be mapped out by the end of 1997.

The eight-point program includes a call for “special attention to be paid to the budgetary front” in order to make better use of land that is left vacant by U.S. the military in the wake of cuts, realignment or integration of the U.S. forces.

The agreement was reached in a meeting of policymakers from the LDP, the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake and despite lingering local resentment toward the U.S. military presence in the prefecture.

Some local residents have complained that economic development of the region has been hampered by the heavy presence of the U.S. military, whose bases occupy large areas of the prefecture. Okinawa is home to about 75 percent of the U.S. military facilities in Japan in terms of land space, although Okinawa accounts for only about 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land.

The three parties agreed during the meeting to continue cooperating to work out measures on the introduction of exceptional tax incentives to be applied solely to Okinawa to expand a free-trade zone there and make the prefecture more attractive to businesses.

Under the agreement, the three parties will also ask the government to make further efforts to deal with deregulation-related requests made by the Okinawa Prefectural Government. The program also calls for the development of the tourism and multimedia industries and promotion of research and development activities tailored to the island’s subtropical climate. Among other proposals, the program also urges the construction of facilities to promote cultural exchanges between Okinawa and other countries while maintaining traditional Okinawan culture.

The agreement was reached just one day before a Lower House plenary session votes on a government-proposed bill to revise a law that would empower the government to expedite the continued leasing of land for U.S. military installations in Okinawa, including property owned by people opposed to continuing such contracts. The bill was approved April 10 by a Lower House committee.

Most lawmakers, except those from the Japanese Communist Party and the SDP, are expected to vote in favor of the bill April 11.

“We reached the agreement before the vote to show our political sincerity to the people of Okinawa,” LDP policy chief Taku Yamasaki said. “Although the SDP has decided to vote against the land lease bill, the three parties will continue working together because security-related issues and steps to promote the economy in Okinawa should not be linked,” Yamasaki added.

However, it is believed the LDP wants to make use of the agreement to dissuade some SDP members from voting against the bill. The SDP has decided to make its position nonbinding, which means each SDP lawmaker can vote as he or she likes on the bill.