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Japan P.M. vows to stimulate Okinawa economy

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his resolve at a meeting with Okinawa officials Tuesday to allocate as much money as possible in next year’s budget to promote the prefecture’s economy.

The Abe administration plans to allocate about ¥340 billion to boost the regional economy, sources said, amid hope of obtaining Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima’s permission for landfill work needed to build a replacement facility for the Futenma military base.

Earlier in the day in a meeting with Abe, Nakaima called for the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in the city of Ginowan to be shut down within five years, and for Camp Kinser, known also as the Makiminato Service Area, in Urasoe to be wholly returned to Japanese control within seven years.

If the administration earmarks ¥340.8 billion, as requested, for fiscal 2014 to shore up Okinawa’s economy, it would represent an increase of ¥40.7 billion from the initial budget for this year. It would also be the second year in a row for the allocation to top ¥300 billion.

The governor, who is considering whether to authorize landfill work to build a replacement facility for the Futenma base in a coastal area, also demanded that the Status of Forces Agreement be revised.

After the meeting, Nakaima indicated he will soon decide whether to authorize the landfill work, telling reporters, “I’m hoping to settle this case in one way or another by the end of this year . . . I may manage to finish it by the yearend.”

The central government hopes to encourage Nakaima to authorize the work by satisfying the prefecture’s budget requests for the new fiscal year and the steps aimed at lightening Okinawa’s base-hosting burden.

Later Tuesday, Nakaima, who had shown up for the meeting at the prime minister’s office in a wheelchair, was admitted into a Tokyo hospital to undergo an examination for pain and numbness that he has been experiencing since last month in his waist and legs, according to the Okinawa Prefectural Government.

In a statement, Vice Gov. Kurayoshi Takara said the prefectural government will disclose when he can be released from the hospital as soon as it becomes clear. A source close to Nakaima said the hospitalization is unlikely to affect the timing of his decision, saying that his symptoms are “not so serious.”

During the meeting in the morning, which also drew several Cabinet ministers, Nakaima requested that the budget be fully allocated.

On the SOFA, he said it is unrealistic to seek the improvement of the agreement’s administration because it depends on U.S. acceptance, instead calling for a revision to the wording in the pact.

“We want the Status Of Forces Agreement to be revised so expert investigators can enter the base and do their work when an incident or accident happens,” he said.

During a news conference after the meeting, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the administration will make “maximum efforts” for a revision “from the standpoint of Okinawa Prefecture.”

Nakaima also pressed for the transfer of MV-22 Osprey aircraft from the Futenma base to multiple locations outside of Okinawa, and the construction of a railway system on Okinawa Island.