Nakaima maintains government aid not tied to Futenma relocation

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Relocating the Futenma military base was not on the agenda in talks on central government budget assistance for Okinawa, its governor and Tokyo’s top official for the prefecture insisted Sunday.

By law, Okinawa receives money every year from the central government for various public works projects to stimulate the local economy — money that is completely separate from funding for U.S. bases. Still, Tokyo holds the purse strings and has a large say in how the budget is spent.

Hanging over the meeting between Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and Ichita Yamamoto, minister in charge of Okinawa issues, on the prefecture’s fiscal 2014 budget request is the Jan. 19 Nago mayoral election, which could determine the fate of the long-stalled plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to Nago’s Henoko district.

Okinawa has proposed a budget of ¥340.8 billion, a major part of which would go to fund the construction of a second runway at Naha International Airport. The prefecture is also seeking a tax system overhaul to help it attract businesses from the mainland and overseas.

In recent weeks, Nakaima has been under increasing pressure from Tokyo and the prefecture’s pro-Henoko faction to approve a central government application to deposit soil for a new runway at the base relocation site.

However, speaking after his meeting with Yamamoto, Nakaima denied Henoko was tied to Okinawa’s budget request.

“The promotion measures policy is the promotion measures policy. It’s completely different logic,” Nakaima said.

Yamamoto said that, as official government policy, the two sides did not discuss the base issue.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said on a TV program Sunday that he hoped Nakaima would approve the landfill application before the Nago poll. The incumbent, anti-base Mayor Susumu Inamine, 68, is running for re-election.

Two of his opponents, former Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, 67, and LDP prefectural assemblyman Bunshin Suematsu, 65, favor relocation. Fearing they will split the vote, handing victory to Inamine, Ishiba on Sunday urged the two to join forces.

“They need to find a way to cooperate before the campaign kicks off on Jan. 12. If Nakaima’s approval (for landfill work) is received before then, what would be the meaning of having the pro-base faction split between two candidates?” Ishiba asked.