The third reshuffled Abe cabinet has been launched. In addition to Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, the main “eye-catcher” in the cabinet, former State Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism Yosuke Tsuruho has assumed the position of Okinawa affairs minister. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will also continue to be responsible for reducing Okinawa’s base-hosting burden. This Okinawa team strongly reflects the beginning of the government’s shift to a policy of linking base issues to economic development.
A government source revealed that “it is precisely because Tsuruho had had nothing to do with Okinawa” that he was appointed as Okinawa affairs minister.
The government has begun to consider changing its hitherto official line of not linking the bases and economic measures, and Okinawa is certain to react fiercely to the outrageous approach of cutting back budget allocations if Okinawa refuses to accept military bases.
The government is also threatening to review tax breaks for Okinawa, such as the lower alcohol tax rate based on the special measures law on Okinawa’s reversion. If even the taxation system is tampered with, the rift between Tokyo and Okinawa will become even more serious.
In this case, “there is a need to avoid any political damage to the Okinawa affairs minister.” The above government source intimated that in anticipation of a tough approach to Okinawa in the future, no connection with Okinawa was the condition for his appointment during the reshuffle of the third Abe cabinet.
Meanwhile, there is a strong opinion that the cabinet team on Okinawa is a “clear indication of Kantei’s intent to take charge of Okinawa affairs.” It is said that the handling of the construction of the new military base in Henoko, Nago City, economic development measures, and other Okinawa issues will now be centralized in the Kantei.
Before the cabinet reshuffle, there had even been rumors in Nagata-cho that the surprise appointment would be naming Suga to serve concurrently as Okinawa affairs minister, in addition to his duties relating to the reduction of Okinawa’s burden.
The choice of defense minister is also evidence of the Kantei’s intent to take over Okinawa issues.
A Defense Ministry source pointed out that Inada is not knowledgeable about defense policy and knows very little about the base issues in Okinawa. The above source explained that she was still appointed as defense minister because “the base issues will move forward even if the minister in charge is not knowledgeable, since the Kantei will be taking the lead.”
A source at the Cabinet Office exclaimed that “this is totally unexpected” after receiving news that Tsuruho was named Okinawa affairs minister. He also lamented that “we have no idea of the new minister’s thinking on Okinawa’s economic development,” expressing concern about the budget request process starting in late August.