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Gov't set to slash Okinawa support for 2nd straight fiscal year

The central government is expected to slash support funds for Okinawa Prefecture in the fiscal 2018 budget draft, the second such cut in as many years and pushing the subsidies to their lowest level since fiscal 2014.

This fiscal year, the support and promotion fund for Japan's southernmost prefecture stood at 315 billion yen (about $2.8 billion). The government indicated it will keep the fund at or above 300 billion yen annually from fiscal 2014 to 2021 in relation to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefecture city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, also on Okinawa's main island. Tokyo entered the final deliberations on the amount to be set aside in fiscal 2018 on Dec. 20, with the figure expected to be in the 300 billion yen-plus range.

The 300 billion yen guarantee was decided by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in December 2013, after then Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima indicated he would approve land reclamation work in the waters off Henoko for the new Marine base. In the fiscal 2014 budget, the Okinawa support fund was set at 350.1 billion yen.

While the central government has honored the 300-billion-yen commitment, it has also been unable to disguise its increasing distrust of current Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who has attempted to thwart the Futenma relocation. The sinking Okinawa support fund amount can be seen as an attempt to check Onaga ahead of two crucial local elections in 2018: the Nago mayoral race in February, and the gubernatorial election in the autumn.

In summer this year, the Cabinet Office requested a budget appropriation of 319 billion yen for the Okinawa fund in fiscal 2018 -- the third year in a row the office has reduced its budget request for the fund -- but that amount was subsequently revised downward. A source close to the Cabinet Office commented, "It would be an accomplishment for the governor if the Okinawa promotion fund budget was increased."

The fiscal 2018 budget draft is set to be approved by the Cabinet on Dec. 22.

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