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GOJ in turmoil over Futenma dilemma

Date Posted: 2009-12-24

The central Japanese government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is in a state of flux, with key government officials in Tokyo at odds with Hatoyama, and leaders on Okinawa equally puzzled at where things are going.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has staked a position delaying a decision on where to move the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, now in Ginowan City, but added that he wants to move it away from Okinawa. He’s told U.S. Secretary of State exactly that, and says he things Hillary Clinton understands. He reportedly told her “although I understand the significance of the U.S.-Japan agreement, I feel it would be risky to go ahead with the existing relocation plan” that calls for moving Futenma to the Henoko area of northern Okinawa. Hatoyama says “we have begun to look for a new option, and I want the U.S. to wait for a while.”

The Prime Minister says he doesn’t remember exactly what Ms. Clinton said, but says “I believe that she understood our position.” The Japanese Foreign Minister, speaking at the same time, disagrees with his boss. “Geographically speaking, deploying them (U.S. Marines) in Okinawa is better than putting them in Hokkaido or elsewhere, says Katsuya Okada. “Okinawa has strategic advantages, and scrapping the ideas already examined would require enormous energy, so relocating Futenma within Okinawa is a good idea in this regard.”

Okada has told Japanese media “Considering the security environment, the deterrent power of the U.S. Marines who are very mobile, will help prevent potential conflicts in the region.” He says the location in Okinawa is debatable, but notes “if we expect Marines to serve as a deterrent, then the argument on whether they should leave Japan is irrelevant.”

Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, is equally frustrated with the lack of decisions by Hatoyama’s administration, saying “we understand it will take time to consider the transfer problems, but not a year or two. We can’t wait.” He says Okinawans had built up some hope the airfield might not remain on Okinawa, but now feel like the issue is in the middle of a swamp. Nakaima says he really wants to agree with the Prime Minister that the airfield should be moved out of Okinawa, and Okinawa Prefecture Assembly members agree.

However, Nakaima says he now questions whether there’s any way the airfield can be made to disappear from Okinawa. The U.S. government is on record it doesn’t want to consider new locations, and the U.S. Marines are signaling they’re perfectly content to remain at Futenma instead of moving anywhere. Mikio Shimoji, a People’s New Party official and lawmaker from Okinawa, says “The U.S. is reluctant to negotiate with Japan, so it would seem the Futenma base will remain as it is, and the people of Okinawa will suffer the most.”

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