Japan to push ahead with US base relocation despite Okinawa referendum result

A bird’s eye of the land reclamation for the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the Henoko coastal district in Nago of Okinawa, Japan. (Kyodo via Reuters)
Updated 25 February 2019
0

Japan to push ahead with US base relocation despite Okinawa referendum result

  • Okinawa is host to the bulk of US military forces in Japan, whose alliance with Washington is central to its security
  • Many Okinawa residents associate the bases with crime, pollution and accidents

TOKYO: A majority of voters in a referendum on Okinawa opposed a plan to relocate a US military base within the southern Japanese island, but the central government said on Monday it intended to press ahead with its construction plans.
Just over 70 percent of voters opposed relocating the US Marines’ Futenma air base within Okinawa in Sunday’s non-binding referendum, with a turnout of 63 percent. Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki was elected on that platform in September.
Okinawa is host to the bulk of US military forces in Japan, whose alliance with Washington is central to its security. Many Okinawa residents associate the bases with crime, pollution and accidents.
The governor is required to respect the outcome and notify the premier and the US president if the top response was backed by more than 25 percent of eligible voters.
Tokyo’s central government and Okinawa authorities have long been at loggerheads over the plan to move the air base.
A US-Japan agreement calls for moving the base, which is surrounded by schools, hospitals and shops, to a less populated area, called Henoko, on the northern part of Okinawa.
However, many Okinawa residents, indignant at what they see as an unfair burden, want the base off the island altogether.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Monday the government was taking the results seriously, and would work to obtain the understanding of Okinawa residents, but that plans to move the base could not be deferred.
“We cannot avoid the necessity of moving Futenma, said to be the most dangerous base in the world,” Abe said, noting that two decades had passed since the agreement to do so was made.
“We can’t put this off any longer,” he said.
Tamaki called on the government to accept the “firm decision” of the Okinawa people that the base relocation was unacceptable.
“I urge the government to change their view that relocating the base to Henoko is the only way and halt construction, along with more dialogue with us on closing Futenma and returning the land to us,” Tamaki said.
The referendum result was unlikely to derail the central government’s stance, said former Chuo University professor Steven Reed.
“It’s not a matter of local government policy. It’s a matter for foreign policy. The deal has been made,” he said.
The outcome could give a bit of a boost to the struggling opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) — the largest among Japan’s opposition groups — ahead of an upper house election this year, Reed said.
The CDPJ opposes the Futenma relocation plan.
“It could make a substantial difference in the next election in Okinawa and it could make some difference nationwide,” he said.
Support for the CDPJ was just under 6 percent in a February survey by public broadcaster NHK, dwarfed by about 37 percent for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.


Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

Updated 8 min 21 sec ago
0

Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is preparing a belt-tightening budget to tame its fiscal deficit, the de facto finance minister said on Saturday, adding that both civilian and military rulers agreed austerity measures were needed to stabilise the economy.
But Hafeez Shaikh, Prime Minister Imran Khan's top finance adviser, declined to say whether the military's hefty budget would be cut following last week's agreement in principle with the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion loan.
The IMF has said the primary budget deficit should be trimmed by the equivalent of $5 billion, but previous civilian rulers have rarely dared to trim defence spending for fear of stoking tensions with the military.
Unlike some other civilian leaders in Pakistan's fragile democracy, Khan appears to have good relations with the country's powerful generals.
More than half of state spending currently goes on the military and debt-servicing costs, however, limiting the government's options for reducing expenditure.
"The budget that is coming will have austerity, that means that the government's expenditures will be put at a minimum level," Shaikh told a news conference in the capital Islamabad on Saturday, a few weeks before the budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year ending in June is due to be presented.
"We are all standing together in it whether civilians or our military," said Shaikh, a former finance minister appointed by Khan as part of a wider shake-up of his economic team in the last two months.
In the days since last week's agreement with the IMF, the rupee currency dropped 5% against the dollar and has lost a third of its value in the past year.
Under the IMF's terms, the government is expected to let the rupee fall to help correct an unsustainable current account deficit and cut its debt while trying to expand the tax base in a country where only 1% of people file returns.
Shaikh has been told by the IMF that the primary budget deficit -- excluding interest payments -- should be cut to 0.6% of GDP, implying a $5 billion reduction from the current projection for a deficit of 2.2% of GDP.
The next fiscal year's revenue collection target will be 5.55 trillion rupees ($36.88 billion), Shaikh told the news conference, highlighting the need for tough steps to broaden the tax base.