A new central government subsidy program will be used to try to break the deadlock in Okinawa Prefecture over the controversial relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is under intense pressure from Washington to show tangible results on the stalled relocation, and on Sept. 26 Noda announced that strings dictating how Okinawa should spend development support subsidies from the central government would be removed.
Okinawan politicians have long campaigned for restrictions on the subsidies to go, allowing them a freer hand to decide the island's development goals.
But, while some Tokyo insiders see the subsidy concession as a way of getting local acquiescence for the military base move, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is steadfastly insisting that the two issues are totally unconnected.
After learning of the new subsidy program on Sept. 26, Nakaima told journalists: "Relocation of Futenma airfield is a separate issue (from new subsidies). It is questionable to link the subsidy program and relocation."
The Okinawa Policy Council meeting at which Noda announced the new subsidy structure was scheduled before the end of September, when the budget request for fiscal 2012 will be submitted, in an effort to build support in Okinawa and help grease the wheels for the relocation of the U.S. airfield in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago in the same prefecture. U.S. President Barack Obama pressed Noda for specific results on the Futenma issue at a meeting on Sept. 21.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura stressed the novelty of the subsidy initiative on Sept. 26: "We have proposed untied subsidies, a pending issue, for the first time," he said. "We started to move forward this morning."
However, there is skepticism in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and on Okinawa over whether the subsidy concessions will give Noda the momentum he needs.
(This article was written by Fukuko Takahashi and Satoshi Okumura.)
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