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Japan mulls restarting subsidies for base-hosting Nago after LDP-backed candidate wins mayoral race

JIJI, Kyodo

The central government is considering restarting subsidies for Nago, Okinawa Prefecture — set to host a relocated U.S. military base — after the victory Sunday of a ruling party-backed candidate in the city’s mayoral election, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tuesday.

Taketoyo Toguchi, a newcomer strongly backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party, defeated incumbent Susumu Inamine, who was seeking a third term and opposed the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the city.

Inamine had support from Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga and opposition parties including the Japanese Communist Party and the Democratic Party.

The central government’s move would be intended to speed up construction of the new base — currently underway in the Henoko coastal area of Nago — through the financial support. The base is currently located in the city of Ginowan in the prefecture.

The central government provides subsidies to municipal governments affected by the realignment of U.S. forces in the country. According to the Defense Ministry, Nago received a total of ¥1.77 billion in such subsidies from 2007 to 2009. The funds were suspended after Inamine, a staunch opponent of the relocation, was elected mayor.

“I want to meet the new mayor as soon as possible and discuss what we can do (to restart the subsidies),” Onodera said.

Toguchi, meanwhile, told reporters Tuesday that he has “no need to reject the money if it’s provided.”

Sunday’s vote also has repercussions for Onaga, who wants the base moved outside the prefecture. Onaga told reporters that the will of voters who supported his victory in the 2014 gubernatorial election is still alive, stressing that there is no change in his resolve to block the Futenma relocation.

Onaga said he will consider moves to halt construction at the new base site. He also said he is working on a decision over whether to run for re-election.

The central government believes the relocation to Henoko is the only way to address what many see as the danger posed by the base, currently located in a crowded residential area.

“By obtaining the understanding of citizens, we’d like to proceed with the relocation plan in line with the Supreme Court ruling,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Monday. In a December 2016 ruling, Onaga’s cancellation of the approval for landfill work for the new site in Henoko, issued by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, was declared to be illegal.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the same day that the central government wants to support Nago “as much as possible.”

Also on Monday, Toguchi told reporters, “I hope to visit Tokyo to request budgets for various projects,” suggesting that he intends to work with the central government to revitalize the local economy.