[Editorial] Yonaguni should promote exchange with Taiwan instead of accepting SDF

June 21, 2013 Ryukyu Shimpo

Members of the Yonaguni Town Assembly have unanimously passed a bill leasing land owned by the town to the Ministry of Defense. This will enable the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to station a coast guard unit on the island. We question such a plan being pushed forward, with almost half of local voters opposing it.

The municipal office will lease 21.4 hectares of the town’s farmland to the ministry for about 15 million yen a year.

The ministry wanted to rent the land for five million yen a year, but this month it agreed to the town’s demands that they pay an amount equal to that for land used for building on. This has increased the amount due by three times. In the use of public funds, is it acceptable that the ministry pays building land rental fees for farmland?

There is a reason the ministry accepted the rent increase. This March, Yonaguni Mayor Moriyoshi Hokama demanded an increase in rent and one billion yen as compensation for the inconvenience the town will face. However, on March 14 the mayor withdrew his demand for compensation, and with this, the ministry accepted the rent increase.

Hokama retracted his demand despite claiming in April that the price proposed by the ministry would not bring about positive economic benefit to the island. While Hokama stated that he “would not budge an inch” on this demand, there is a reason for the retraction.

The ministry has started considering measures to promote the island by improving infrastructure for the fishery industry and solid waste management. Hokama said, “In a deal carried out behind the scenes, the ministry will pay a billion yen toward the cost for improving these buildings.” Is it acceptable for the municipal office to be swayed by money politics into accepting this plan to station an SDF unit on Yonaguni?

While the town claims that the unit will bring benefits to the island and revitalize the local economy, the SDF states that this will reinforce the defense in the southwestern region. The town and the ministry are working toward different goals.
Hokama has claimed that the stationing of SDF personnel there will benefit the island economically. However, on Tsushima Island, which hosts a SDF base, the population continues to decline. It is an illusion to think that an SDF unit on the island will promote the local economy.

The ministry plans to station a 100-man strong coast guard unit on Yonaguni. On June 2, the number of eligible voters was 1,212. Some of the SDF personnel will bring family members with them. The SDF personnel and their families will account for ten percent of all the voters. This will influence the island’s politics, undermining local autonomy.

We would prefer to support the proposal from the town in 2005 of creating a special zone for exchange with Taiwan, but the Japanese government dismissed this idea. It is distorted politics that the central government forces Yonaguni to accept an SDF unit. An island located on a national boundary should be promoting international exchange. It is counter-productive to cause conflict by stationing a military force on the island.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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