Joint work with government vital to revitalize economy in Okinawa

The Okinawa promotion plan is an important project that will cover the 10 years from 2022, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Okinawa Prefecture’s reversion to Japan. It is hoped that the Okinawa prefectural government will cooperate with the central government to draw up an attractive vision for the future.

The current Okinawa promotion plan, which aimed to correct disparities between the prefecture and the mainland and promote self-reliant economic development, will expire in fiscal 2021. The prefectural government has compiled a draft outline of the vision for fiscal 2022 onward.

Taking into account the ongoing pandemic, such new goals as making the islands of the prefecture safe and secure and building a sustainable society and economy have been incorporated as features of the new framework.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the number of tourists visiting the prefecture hit record highs for seven years in a row, but it fell 60% in 2020 compared to the previous year. The prefectural government has estimated that demand dropped ¥650 billion in 2020. It is an urgent task to revive the economy, which has fallen into a critical situation.

The central government had previously formulated the promotion plans. The system has changed from the current and fifth plan, with the prefectural government tasked with compiling the plan and the central government providing support. The prefectural government will be closely watched as to its efforts to proactively work on the plan.

The draft outline stipulates the strengthening of coronavirus countermeasures. The prefectural government must steadily proceed with the work, such as improving infection prevention systems at airports and ports as well as expanding medical services and virus testing on remote islands.

The prefectural government aims to integrally utilize Naha Airport and Naha Port to establish “a city with both an airport and a port” as an international logistics hub. In a bid to overhaul a business framework that depends on tourism, the draft outline includes measures to invite tech companies and promote infrastructure development, including public transportation.

Cooperation between the central and prefectural governments will be important to make various measures realistically possible. However, the conflict between the two sides over the U.S. military base issue has not been resolved.

Regarding the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture, reclamation work to pour earth and sand is expected to end as early as this month for about 30% of the 152-hectare planned sea area.

The central government last year applied to the prefectural government for construction design changes regarding the soft seabed that had been discovered in the remaining sea area, but the prefectural government is insisting that the work be halted entirely.

The relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko is indispensable for maintaining deterrence capabilities. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki should consider the interests of the prefecture as a whole and have constructive discussions with the central government.

As part of its efforts to reduce the burden of hosting U.S. bases, the training site of the Osprey transport aircraft stationed at the Futenma base was changed to Yamaguchi Prefecture and other locations after the central government made a request to the U.S. military. It is necessary to continually study the matter and reduce the burden that Okinawa Prefecture bears.

Given the history of Okinawa Prefecture, which suffered enormous damage during World War II, and the fact that 70% of U.S. military facilities in Japan are concentrated in the prefecture, it is the central government’s responsibility to make utmost efforts to work for the promotion of the prefecture.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 5, 2021.