Japan spokesman’s Okinawa visit starts path to prove his presence in government

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, left, meets with Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki at the Okinawa prefectural office in Naha on Saturday.

NAHA — Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno sought Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki’s understanding on the central government’s plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko area in Nago. The two met at the Okinawa prefectural government office on Saturday but failed to see any common ground, as Tamaki called for the plan to be abandoned.

“The relocation work should be suspended immediately,” Tamaki said at the start of the meeting, which lasted half an hour. “I want the central and Okinawa prefectural governments to hold talks on this issue at the earliest opportunity.”

As a cabinet minister, Matsuno is tasked with reducing the burden on Okinawa of hosting U.S. military bases.

“Given the need to maintain the deterrent effect of the Japan-U.S. alliance and to eliminate the dangers of Futenma Air Station, relocation to Henoko is the only solution,” Matsuno emphasized.

The visit to Okinawa Prefecture on Friday and Saturday was the first for Matsuno after taking up the post in Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet.

Matsuno is seen as a candidate for a leadership position within the Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction, which is led by Hiroyuki Hosoda. His performance as chief cabinet secretary will likely be a litmus test whether he can boost his presence in the faction.

Inheriting Suga’s line

The chief cabinet secretary joined a roundtable discussion with residents of Ginowan in the city on Saturday. In response to a citizen saying residents are always living with the fear of an aircraft crash, Matsuno emphasized that the relocation to Henoko should proceed steadily, saying, “It is for the best if the Futenma Air Station is returned as soon as possible.”

Prior to the Ginowan dialogue, Matsuno went to a Naha hotel to meet Nago Mayor Taketoyo Toguchi and representatives of residents in and around the Henoko district. Matsuno received requests on such matters as development programs and measures against noise pollution.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno joins in a dialogue with residents in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Saturday.

On the issue of relocating the Futenma base to the Henoko district, Tamaki has been showing his stance of using all possible prefectural authority over landfill work and other related matters to stop the relocation. In this regard, Matsuno’s ability to coordinate will be tested.

After the meeting with Tamaki, the chief cabinet secretary spoke to reporters about the base issues and Okinawa development budgets, saying, “They are related to each other, as both issues should be proceeded comprehensively.”

The comment apparently suggested that Matsuno has inherited former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s reasoning that development projects are linked to the burden of hosting U.S. bases as a form of compensation.

Huge opportunity

Matsuno’s path to chief cabinet secretary took a rather non-elite course. He worked for a private company then studied at the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management founded by Panasonic Corp. founder Konosuke Matsushita to develop future leaders. He was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 2000.

When Kishida was serving as the chairperson of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, Matsuno worked there on such tasks as creating policies related to employment issues. Matsuno’s scrupulous work on such occasions earned praise from Kishida and likely helped him land the key post of chief cabinet secretary.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came from the Hosoda faction, in June named in a monthly magazine Matsuno and two other faction members — Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda and Yasutoshi Nishimura, former minister in charge of economic revitalization — as strong candidates to become prime minister in the future.

While Hagiuda and Nishimura are seen as having close ties to Abe, Matsuno is believed to have kept a certain distance from the former prime minister.

Matsuno is also seen as lacking the exposure and ability to communicate at the level of Hagiuda or Nishimura. In this regard, being in the post of chief cabinet secretary is a huge opportunity for Matsuno to advance his career.