Okinawa was placed under U.S. rule for 27 years after the end of World War II. During this time, the Japanese mainland succeeded in rebuilding its economy, in particular securing high economic growth through the development of heavy industries, and thus joined the ranks of industrialized countries.
However, during this time, Okinawa’s economy remained dependent on demand generated by the U.S. military facilities, and the prefecture developed a unique economic structure that lacked the engine of growth we call industrial production.
True, the U.S. bases provided income, but this was not accompanied by an accumulation of capital, nor by any production. In other words, Okinawa had within it an area to which its inhabitants could turn to for work.
After Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, the leading section of the Okinawan economy shifted from income from the U.S. bases to public-works projects. However, the prefecture’s economy then became dependent on fiscal buttresses, and there was no basic change to the fact that Okinawa lacked facilities for its own industrial production. The prefecture still had no base that it could call its engine of growth.
No doubt Okinawa was able to grow substantially, first through income from the U.S. bases and then through public works and tourism. Although its per capita income is the lowest in Japan, when compared internationally it is still among the group of industrialized nations.
The problem lies in that this income level has not been created through industrial activity.
So what sort of industry, then, can thrive in Okinawa? After reversion, one industry that has grown tremendously is tourism. The number of tourists visiting Okinawa in 1971 hovered around the 200,000-level, but that figure has since ballooned, reaching more than 4.5 million in 1999.
Since the prefecture’s hosting of the Okinawa International Ocean Expo in 1975, the tourism industry has grown in leaps and bounds. This industry is most likely to play a leading role in Okinawa’s economy for years to come.
In addition, another sector whose presence in Okinawa has become marked in recent years is information technology. While the IT revolution is having a major impact on the global economy, Okinawa is no exception. Indeed, up to now, Okinawa’s possibilities within the boundaries of economies defined as being based on industrial production were quite limited, given the inconveniences of being positioned in a remote island zone. Limits to resources, markets and technology put the brakes on industrial growth.
However, because there is no handicap of distance in the realm of information and telecommunications, it becomes possible to relatively expand Okinawa’s chances of achieving growth.
In this way, the tourism and resort industry and the information and telecommunications industry are expected to play vital roles as the leading sectors of the Okinawan economy in the 21st century.
Furthermore, the reason behind the high hopes held for the prospects of these two sectors is Okinawa’s location.
Okinawa is positioned at the crossroads of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and China, the main components of East Asia.
This geopolitical location is now called the “Keystone of the Pacific” from a military viewpoint, but it is hoped that in the 21st century Okinawa will be a hub for economic and cultural exchange.
Expectations for the summit
Historically, Okinawa has always confronted the superpowers of the times. In the past, it was China, then in more contemporary and modern times, Japan and the United States. In the periods when these three countries enjoyed hegemony, Okinawa was in turn a vassal state, an annex or placed under rule. Has there been any other region which has experienced such tumult?
And now, Okinawa plays a large role in contributing to the security of the Asia-Pacific. We should first recognize that this year’s Group of Eight summit is going to be held in an area with such experience and such a role.
One of the greatest expectations for the summit meeting from the Okinawan side is that it provides the prefecture with an opportunity to directly appeal to the G8 leaders. I hope that summit participants will deepen their understanding of the importance of Okinawa’s location; its natural beauty; its unique society and lifestyle; the hospitality of its people; and the hugeness of the U.S. military bases here.
If such understanding is broadened, Okinawa will be recognized not merely as just one region of Japan, but attention will also be directed to its potential within the Asia-Pacific and the world.
Second, I hope to see Okinawa introduced to the rest of the world through the media. The distinction achieved through such media attention can be linked to the securing of autonomy for Okinawa’s economy, which in turn holds the key to the formation of a vision for Okinawa’s 21st century.
This brings me to my third hope, and that is to use the G8 summit as a springboard to turn the prefecture into one that is more attractive to international conventions. It is desirable that Okinawa make efforts to raise its profile in this field to levels achieved by such cities as Nice and Cannes in France and Aspen, Colo. This “convention city” plan should be built on the current trend toward tourist resort development.
Also, we should envision Okinawa as becoming an international information hub for East Asia, making full use of the latest trends in the information-technology industry, the telecom-infrastructure upgrades Okinawa received as part of preparations for the summit and the impetus provided by the touting of the Okinawa summit as the “IT Summit.”
In particular, I would like to hope for the acceleration of the establishment of an international information and financial service center in Okinawa that would serve as a hub for electronic business.
The creation of a financial center like Singapore and Hong Kong in East Asia is an important issue for Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China and the U.S. when considering the development of the global economy in the 21st century.
In such a situation, it is highly likely that Okinawa will capitalize on the strength of its geopolitical positioning.
In the way that I have above mentioned, my expectations for the G8 summit know no bounds.
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