Strong-arming Okinawa’s governor

The Abe administration continues to give the cold shoulder to Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who was elected in November pledging to stop the government project to build a new U.S. military facility in the prefecture to relocate the functions of the U.S. Marine’s Air Station Futenma. A reported plan to sharply trim spending on measures to spur Okinawa’s economy in the fiscal 2015 budget smacks of a blatant attempt to use national government money to keep the new governor in check and sway the local administration policy.

In the November election, Onaga defeated his predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima, who in December 2013 gave the go-ahead for a reclamation work off the coast of Nago to build the Futenma replacement airfield in a turnaround from his earlier campaign promise to seek relocating the Futenma base outside the prefecture.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top leaders of his administration have since refused dialogue with the new governor. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party did not extend a customary invitation for Onaga to attend the party’s meeting last week to discuss the budget to promote Okinawa’s economy, and reportedly snubbed a request from the governor to join another LDP meeting on the issue of subsidies to sugar cane producers. That marks a sharp contrast from the close contacts that Abe and other members of his team maintained with Nakaima before and after his decision to approve the reclamation off Nago. Just before he made the decision in 2013, the administration secured ¥346 billion in spending on Okinawa’s economy for fiscal 2014 — a 15 percent increase from the previous year that even topped the ¥340 billion sought in budgetary requests earlier in the year. Abe himself promised at least ¥300 billion in such spending through fiscal 2021, and the fiscal 2015 budget request for the Okinawa spending made last summer — just as Nakaima was fighting an uphill battle for re-election — shot up to ¥379.4 billion.

Apparently mindful of the criticism that the administration was buying cooperation for the Futenma relocation to Nago with the huge spending, the government has explained that the spending to promote Okinawa’s economy is not linked to the Futenma issue but is being made in view of the circumstances in which the prefecture continues to host a bulk of the American military presence in Japan after the 1972 reversion from decades of postwar U.S. rule.

Now, as the administration prepares to compile the draft budget for fiscal 2015, the government reportedly plans to cut the Okinawa spending by roughly 10 percent from 2014 to around ¥310 billion, on the grounds that grants extended to the prefecture have not been sufficiently used. Bloated budgetary requests by the bureaucracy need to be scrutinized and pared, and it must be constantly monitored if the large spending is indeed contributing to the promotion of local economy. Still, the move — along with the cold shoulder given to Onaga — have raised suspicions that the Abe administration is trying to use government spending as a tool to persuade Onaga to reconsider his opposition to the Futenma relocation to Nago.

The administration maintains that the reclamation off Nago for construction of the replacement airfield will go ahead on the basis of the approval given by 2013 approval by Nakaima, regardless of the position of the new governor.

A series of elections held in Okinawa last year, including the Lower House election in December in which LDP candidates lost in all of the four single-seat constituencies in the prefecture, indicates that local voters do not accept the relocation plan, which the administration insists is the “only solution” to the problem of the Futenma base located in a densely-populated area of Ginowan city. Refusing even to talk with the new governor would mean dismissing the will of the voters expressed in the polls.

  • Guest

    It makes no sense for Americans to defend Japanese territory without the cooperation of the Japanese people. It makes more sense to abrogate the mutual defense treaty between Japan and America. Let Japan face China alone.