A planned concert by Japanese all-girl pop group AKB48 may have escalated rift over US Marine base in Okinawa

Okinawa Prefecture planned concert using ‘development budget’ from Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 August, 2017, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 August, 2017, 10:32pm

The lavishing of 28 million yen (US$255,000) on a event featuring the all girl-band AKB48 may have given Tokyo the excuse it has been looking for to slash Okinawa Prefecture’s development budget.

Political analysts warn, however, that both the national and local governments need to be careful not to be dragged into more recriminations over the future of US bases in the prefecture.

Tokyo has previously threatened to reduce the amount that it provides for the economic development of the prefecture unless authorities in Naha approve the closure of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station and the transfer of the bulk of the personnel and hardware to an enlarged Camp Schwab, on the northeast coast of the prefecture.

Okinawan people are opposed to the plan and want the Marines moved out of the prefecture altogether, either to other bases in mainland Japan or overseas.

Of the 315 billion yen given to the prefecture by the national government under this year’s development budget, 135.8 billion yen was provided to be spent at the local authority’s discretion.

Inviting the hugely popular AKB48 to the prefecture for a concert and their annual televised popularity vote was meant to bring in as many as 8,000 additional tourists during June, a traditionally quiet time for the local tourism industry because it is the rainy season.

Unfortunately for the organisers, the anticipated windfall failed to materialise when the June 17 event was cancelled because torrential rain and thunder were forecast for the day.

With little indication that the local government will buckle under to pressure on the issue of US bases, the AKB48 debacle could now be used by Tokyo to review its financial support.

“It would be very dangerous for Tokyo to start applying what amounts to blackmail against the prefecture,” said Garren Mulloy, an associate professor of international relations at Daito Bunka University.

“The Okinawa government could very easily call their bluff and do something like releasing all the minutes of two-way meetings in which Tokyo has blamed the US for problems associated with the transfer of the US forces. Both sides need to tread very carefully.”

Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, underlined the power that Tokyo feels it wields in a press conference in August last year.

“It is natural that the budget will be reduced if there is no progress with the work [at Camp Schwab],” he said. “There are many development projects for the land. Those development measures and the base issues are linked in that the budget will be reduced if the work does not proceed.”