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14% funds boost eyed to sway Okinawa

JIJI

The Cabinet Office is seeking ¥340.8 billion in the fiscal 2014 budget to promote economic development in Okinawa Prefecture, hoping it will help persuade the prefecture’s leaders to sign off on the plan to move the U.S. Futenma air base to a less populated area.

The funding request is 13.6 percent higher than the amount approved for fiscal 2013.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and other local leaders, including Atsushi Sakima, the mayor of Ginowan, which hosts Futenma, visited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Friday.

Nakaima thanked Abe for the sizable budget request.

The Okinawa leaders, however, handed Abe a document demanding that the base be moved out of the prefecture all together.

The current plan calls for relocating the U.S. facility to the Henoko coastal district in Nago, which is less densely populated than Ginowan, and building a new runway on landfill.

The document handed to Abe on Friday says it will be “effectively impossible” to carry out the relocation plan signed with the United States because local communities oppose it.

For fiscal 2014, Okinawan leaders are seeking about ¥300 billion from the central government for local promotion and a separate allocation to finance the construction of a second runway at Naha Airport.

The central government has granted the requests, a government source said.

Ichita Yamamoto, minister in charge of Okinawa issues, told a news conference that the sizable budget request “shows how serious Abe is” about Okinawa.

Still, the two sides remain wide apart on numerous issues and perceptions.

Following the fatal crash of a U.S. military helicopter near U.S. Camp Hansen halfway between Ginowan and Nago on Aug. 5, the U.S. Marine Corps decided to delay the deployment of MV-22 Ospreys at the Futenma base, even though the tilt-rotor transport wasn’t involved in the training accident. When the Osprey deployment resumed a week later, however, public resentment grew.