Photo/IllutrationProtesters against construction of a U.S. military base wait for a candidate in the Upper House election in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in June. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In a policy reversal, Yosuke Tsuruho, new state minister in charge of Okinawa issues, warned that further delays in relocating a U.S. military base there could shrink the economic development budget allocated to the prefecture.

“Development measures and base issues in Okinawa are certainly linked together,” Tsuruho said Aug. 4 in his first news conference as state minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs.

The central government’s stance had been that the Okinawa development budget and military base issues were not connected. Okinawan Governor Takeshi Onaga, who was elected on promises to ease the prefecture’s burden in hosting U.S. military bases, is expected to lash out at Tsuruho’s comments.

The central government is trying to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan in central Okinawa to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

However, strong protests from residents and local governments in Okinawa Prefecture have delayed work on the project.

The development budget includes measures for the use of land where the Futenma air station is currently located.

Tsuruho said delaying the relocation work will prevent progress on using the Futenma land, and the central government would come under fire for wasting taxpayer money in Okinawa’s development budget.

“It would only be natural for us to slash the budget amount,” he said.

The switched stance on the development budget appears to have become official government policy since the Cabinet reshuffle on Aug. 3.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga echoed Tsuruho’s stance at a news conference the same day.

“It is natural that the budget will be reduced if there is no progress in the work,” the government’s top spokesman said. “There are many development measures for the use of the land. Development measures and base issues are linked in that the budget will be decreased if work does not proceed.”

Tomomi Inada, the new defense minister, sided with Suga during an interview on Aug. 4.

“There is a link between base issues and development in Okinawa as explained by the chief Cabinet secretary.”