TOKYO – The government began on Aug. 3 a review of its longstanding policy of separating Okinawa economic development measures from U.S. military base issues. The policy of direct linkage between progress made in base policies, such as the construction of a new military base in Henoko, Nago City, and economic measures will effectively be sanctioned. Specifically, the Kantei [Prime Minister’s Official Residence] is leading the discussion on slashing FY17 allocations for Okinawa, and the extension of tax breaks for Okinawa is expected to be evaluated strictly. It is reckoned that this is not only meant to put pressure on Governor Takeshi Onaga, who opposes the construction of the new military base, but also to drive a wedge between the Okinawa government and the business sector.
The government’s adoption of this linkage policy will mean a major shift in the economic development policy for Okinawa since its reversion to Japanese administration [in 1972].
So far, the need to correct Okinawa’s disparity with the mainland and make Okinawa’s economic development a driving force for overall Japanese economic growth has been the rationale for development measures for Okinawa. The government has consistently denied that spending for Okinawa is a reward for hosting the U.S. bases.
On the other hand, the Shinzo Abe administration questions the fact that Onaga, who is opposed to building the new base in Henoko, thinks that he can still obtain budget allocations even if he opposes the bases, according to a senior administration official.
Before the cabinet reshuffle on Aug. 3, a senior official of a Cabinet Office section responsible for Okinawa affairs checked with a senior administration official about whether Okinawa’s development will continue to be separate from the base issues. The administration official answered: “That will not do,” expressing a negative view.
With the low implementation rate of Okinawa’s budget being an issue, the government intends to cut the lump-sum grants to Okinawa drastically and apply stricter standards for the extension of tax breaks expiring during the current fiscal year as a retaliatory measure against Okinawa. (Slightly abridged)