(Okinawa Times: March 29, 2016 – p. 2)
In the town of Yonaguni, which had been divided over the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) personnel on the island, a “Yonaguni coast observation unit” was formed on March 28. Concerned about the town’s population decline, many residents agreed to accept the GSDF unit. Yonaguni residents felt both anxious and hopeful about the fact that people connected to the GSDF would account for 15% of the town’s population. Some were concerned that they would lose the town’s “autonomy,” while others welcomed the move, thinking “it would become a springboard for revitalizing the town.” Meanwhile, the central government is also hoping to dispatch SDF members to the islands of Miyako and Ishigaki since it has now gained a foothold for enhancing the defense of the Nansei islands.
In a regular town assembly meeting in March, Town Mayor Shukichi Hokama sounded out assembly members about “selecting a male Defense Ministry official in his thirties as deputy mayor.” This proposal came as a surprise to members of the opposition camp.
Reportedly, the town only received an informal approval from the Defense Ministry of its application to participate in a system for revitalization of regional economies, under which central government offices dispatch their personnel to local municipalities.
However, opposition members of the town assembly reacted strongly to the mayor’s idea, with one member saying, “If a defense official serves in a high-level post in the town, the town administration will be controlled by the SDF.” As there were no prospects for obtaining approval for the mayor’s proposal, the idea of selecting a defense official for a town government post was scrapped.
Meanwhile, Hokama emphasized the advantages of the deployment of the GSDF unit, such as an increase in tax revenue and a decrease in the number of mixed grade level classes as a result of children of GSDF members entering local the local schools.
A Defense Ministry source who has been involved in the GSDF unit deployment project from the start said emphatically: “It took a long time but we’ve finally made it to this day.” (Abridged)