Okinawa economic development, national security both important
Okinawa Prefecture celebrates the 40th anniversary of its reversion to Japanese sovereignty on Tuesday.
An event to commemorate the anniversary in Ginowan will be attended by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the heads of the other two branches of government, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and others.
The prefecture continues to bear the excessive burden of hosting 74 percent of U.S. military facilities in this country, measured by land area. Under such circumstances, the government is urged to find a way to achieve both economic development of the prefecture and effective national security.
The government last week decided on the basic policy for an Okinawa Prefecture economic development plan. The plan for the next decade, to begin this fiscal year, will be the fifth of its kind. A major pillar of the policy is to make the prefecture into an international distribution base through construction of a second runway at Naha Airport. The government aims to enable the prefecture to move toward self-supporting economic development. Based on the policy, the Okinawa prefectural government is to decide the details of the economic development plan on Tuesday.
Use development budget effectively
It is quite appropriate for the government to have changed the main entity to compile the plan from itself to the prefectural government. We hope the central and prefectural governments will steadily carry out projects in the plan to take full advantage of the geographical and international features of the prefecture, which is the closest part of Japan to many Asian countries.
Past development plans focused on "correction of disparities between the prefecture and other parts of the country." Despite those efforts, prefectural residents' incomes have remained around 70 percent of the national average. As the manufacturing industry can hardly grow there, manufacturers' contribution to gross prefectural product has fallen from 11 percent 40 years ago to 4 percent today.
The prefecture's economic structure stands on three main pillars: U.S. military bases, public works projects and tourism. Dependence on the central government's budget for the prefecture's development is also high.
The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, partly as amends for having caused turmoil over the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station relocation issue, has beefed up its Okinawa Prefecture development budget to a handsome 293.7 billion yen this fiscal year.
To use the funds effectively, it is essential for the prefectural government and each municipality in the prefecture to compile economic development measures based on medium and long-term outlooks and continue their self-help efforts.
The prefectural government will be able to utilize the central government's lump-sum grants with fewer usage restrictions. It can also shift the focus of the budget, previously on construction of tangible objects such as infrastructure and fancy public facilities, to intangible things such as environmental and welfare programs.
Importance for national security
Recently, Chinese military and other ships have been regularly observed around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and other areas. Taking into consideration the rapid reinforcement and modernization of the Chinese Navy and Air Force, the prefecture's geopolitical importance for national security will become far greater from now on.
The government must squarely face this fact and firmly maintain the efficacy and deterrence value of the Japan-U.S. alliance based on defense cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.
At the same time, the government needs to do its best to reduce the prefecture's burden through such measures as facilitating the return of U.S. military facilities to Japan, which will follow the transfer of U.S. marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture to bases overseas, and making operational improvements in the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. It should also patiently work on the relocation of the functions of the Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district of Nago.
Also important is to map out effective utilization of land to be vacated by the U.S. military.
The government is now studying construction of an advanced cancer treatment facility in a residential district in Camp Foster, formerly called Camp Zukeran, stretching over Okinawa city and several other municipalities.
It is indispensable for the government to gradually and steadily win the understanding of the prefecture and its residents toward the realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Japan.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 15, 2012)