Okinawa development policy draft emphasizes ‘security importance’ of islands to territorial waters

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Okinawa prefectural government office is seen in Naha on Thursday.

The draft of the government’s basic policy for the promotion and development of Okinawa, which will serve as a guideline for Okinawa development measures for the next 10 years, has been learned.

It is characterized by an emphasis on the importance of Okinawa in terms of security, including the protection of Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The draft also includes the need for a study and examination on the desirable form of railway track development, which the prefecture has strongly requested.

The basic policy is the document that outlines the direction and priority areas for development through 2032, based on the revised Special Measures for the Promotion and Development of Okinawa Law enacted in March. This will be the second basic policy after the first 10-year plan was compiled in 2012. It will be discussed at the government panel on the promotion of economic advancement in the prefecture and will be officially decided as early as next month.

The foreword of the draft points out that half a century has passed since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, and that “drastic changes, including changes in international circumstances, continue to take place.” It then clearly states that “the important roles played by the numerous remote islands scattered throughout the vast sea area, such as the use of marine resources and the protection of territorial waters and EEZs, have also been recognized anew.”

Tensions have been rising in the waters around Okinawa, as China Coast Guard vessels have repeatedly intruded into the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture. There are growing voices within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that “a security perspective should be added to the development of Okinawa,” and this time, the words “protection of territorial waters and EEZs” were included in the foreword that outlines the overall policy. In the previous one, it was only mentioned in the section on “remote islands development” by field.

In order to maintain and expand the population of the remote islands, the policy also includes industrial development and job creation in accordance with regional characteristics, such as the development of specialty products.

Regarding the development of public transportation connecting the prefecture by train and other means, the policy stated that it would “study and examine” the issue. In Okinawa, there is only a monorail connecting Naha and the surrounding area, and there are hopes in the prefecture that expansion and improvement of railway track will lead to resolving traffic congestion and bringing balanced development.

There are many issues to be addressed, such as profitability, but Okinawa affairs minister Kosaburo Nishime, an Okinawa constituency House of Representatives member, has expressed his desire to people around him to move forward with the railway project during his tenure as minister.

The basic policy has also stated the expansion of the number of support staff and providing employment support for parents in an effort to alleviate the serious problem of child poverty.

In future development, the creation of industries that will lead to sustainable growth will be important. In order to enhance effectiveness, the draft calls on the prefectural government and other entities to ensure “policy formulation based on scientific evidence” to verify the progress and effectiveness of measures. It also mentioned the possibility of realizing a “strong Okinawa economy” by taking advantage of its proximity to Asian countries.