Abe firm on Futenma but vows respite


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that his government will make efforts to ease Okinawa’s burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan and promote the prefecture’s economic development.

“There are still many U.S. military facilities, imposing large burdens on the people of Okinawa,” Abe told a council on Okinawa issues that was convened for the first time since his administration came to power in late December. It was attended by all Cabinet ministers and Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.

The government will make “all-out” efforts to ease Okinawa’s burdens, while maintaining the “deterrence” effect provided by the U.S. military stationed in the prefecture, Abe said at the meeting at his office.

Okinawa has “great potential” that could be “a driving force in revitalizing the Japanese economy,” Abe said. “Investment in Okinawa is an investment in the future.”

The meeting came after Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in Washington last month that the two countries would proceed with plans to build an airstrip elsewhere in Okinawa to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma despite strong local opposition.

Abe’s government plans to submit an application to Okinawa Prefecture by month’s end for approval to start filling in land in offshore areas where the new airstrip will extend.

But Nakaima, as well as many other local leaders and residents, have been urging Tokyo and Washington to move the U.S. base out of the prefecture.

Nakaima told reporters after the meeting, the Futenma base “should be relocated to a place that already has a runway,” reiterating his stance that replacing the base in the densely populated city of Ginowan with the planned airstrip in the less-populated Henoko coastal district of Nago would be problematic.

During the meeting, the government unveiled to Nakaima a set of subsidies for Okinawa in the fiscal 2013 budget and measures to ease Okinawa’s burdens, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. It was the first time the council had convened since last May.

Nakaima can’t abide sovereignty restoration anniversary bash

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said Tuesday he is “reluctant” to attend the government-sponsored ceremony next month to mark the 1952 restoration of Japan’s sovereignty, given that his prefecture remained occupied for a further 20 years.

“I do not feel I can (attend) with open arms,” Nakaima told reporters, saying the anniversary of sovereignty recovery, April 28, is called the “day of insult” in Okinawa, as it had been “cut off” from the mainland and placed under U.S. occupation until its return in 1972.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government announced last week that a ceremony would be held April 28 to mark the day Japan recovered its sovereignty under the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty and returned to the international community following the seven-year Allied Occupation.

At a government meeting also attended by Nakaima earlier in the day, Abe asked for Okinawa’s acceptance of the official plan to hold the ceremony, saying, “I would like to renew our determination to move forward into the future of our country, including Okinawa.

“We cannot forget the history of hardships of Okinawa, the Amami Islands, and the Ogasawara Islands, that they were outside Japan’s administration for a certain period of time after the war,” Abe said.

Between Japan’s recovery of sovereignty and the reversion of Okinawa, the Amami Islands were returned in 1953 and the Ogasawara Islands in 1968.