In a veiled attempt to put pressure on Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not meet the newly elected anti-base leader during his three-day visit to the capital.
Onaga, who opposes the government’s push to move a contentious U.S. military base further north in his prefecture, defeated Hirokazu Nakaima in a closely watched election in November, after the former governor approved a landfill project needed to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, stirring strong local opposition.
Following up on recent reports, several government sources said Tokyo has also decided to reduce its fiscal 2015 budget for Okinawa, which was initially estimated at ¥379.4 billion.
The central government is in the midst of compiling a draft budget for fiscal 2015 starting in April that will likely be approved by the Cabinet in mid-January.
Before his three-day visit to the capital, Onaga said he would seek talks with Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, among others, over the base relocation plan.
“It’s unfortunate” to not have a meeting with Abe or Suga, Onaga told reporters Friday after meeting with Shunichi Yamaguchi, state minister in charge of Okinawa-related issues. “I’d be grateful if we could exchange views.”
During the meeting, Yamaguchi told Onaga that he would “do his best to secure enough funds,” but said Okinawa also needs to do its part and come up with ways to stimulate its economy.
The base move has been a contentious issue in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military installations in Japan. The project has been stymied by local opposition and political wrangling for nearly two decades.
Earlier in the day, Suga dismissed the idea that the government would renege on its pledge to give around ¥300 billion in financial support to Okinawa each year until fiscal 2021. The pledge was extended before Nakaima bucked public opinion and greenlighted the start of the landfill work for the replacement base.
“The government has made its promise. We will take appropriate steps while examining the progress,” Suga told a regular press briefing.
Shortly before Nakaima approved the landfill project in December 2013, the government earmarked ¥346.0 billion in the fiscal 2014 budget, up by around ¥5.2 billion from its initial estimate.
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