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Tokyo waffles as Okinawa anti-base resolve strengthens

Date Posted: 2010-03-11

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his key cabinet ministers are stirring more local anger with contradicting statements over decisions that lead to the conclusion of the site for a new military airfield to replace the contentious Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, now located in Ginowan City. The final question is, will it stay in Okinawa after all. That’s a move in direct contradiction to what Okinawa officials are clearly saying.

The Okinawa Prefecture Assembly has already passed a resolution opposing Futenma’s replacement location being in Okinawa, the Governor’s spoken out, Nago City citizens have just elected a new mayor who campaigned on a promise to not let the new airfield be built at Henoko, a district in his city, and the Nago City Assembly has firmly spoken against the government plan for a northern Okinawa site.

None of that has done anything to slow the Hatoyama administration’s chief officers from talking about the controversial Marine Base remaining on Okinawa soil. The strongest words on Futenma moving to Henoko, as originally agreed to by Japan and the United States in a May 2006 pact, have come from Akihisa Nagashima, a vice defense minister who says the base will stay here, even though it will alienate both local residents and ruling coalition partners.

Nagashima says Okinawans will be offered “compensation” as the government assigns the new airfield to the prefecture in spite of anti-base opposition. He says the solution to the base issue “must be operationally doable to the United States”, while noting President Barack Obama has even pressed for a Tokyo decision to honor the 2006 agreement. The vice defense minister says it will be problematic with the three-party ruling coalition made up of the Democratic Party of Japan and two smaller partners, the Social Democratic Party and People’s New Party. “The question is whether we get a divorce and go our separate ways,” he says, “or whether we find a political compromise.”

Hatoyama, when he and his Democratic Party of Japan campaigned last Summer, promised to dump the Okinawa airfield relocation plan, which is part of a multi-billion-dollar plan to shift more than 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam. Once the DPJ won, it formed the alliance with the PNP and SDP, which also oppose the new base being in Okinawa. Will it matter? No, according to Nagashima, who says the Social Democratic Party, which has 12 seats in the Diet, must be realistic and accept the solution.

Nagashima, a former senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations and a member of the Lower House since 2003, has authored a book on the U.S.-Japan security pact, and says the treaty is why the base must stay in Okinawa. “The Futenma issue could affect the core of Japan-U.S. relations,” he says, and “the center of the alliance is military cooperation.”

Word is circulating through Tokyo that the administration’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirofumi Hirano, has already met with the U.S. Ambassador to Japan to let him know of the government’s plans. Hirano, together with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, reportedly have met with Ambassador John Roos to let him know what’s being planned.

Tokyo has studied the possibilities of moving part of the Okinawa Marines’ functions to other locations in mainland Japan, but has found the issue complex, and couldn’t muster support from local or prefecture officials to accept the American troops and bases.

Groups of Japanese and Americans, together with non-governmental groups, are taking action of their own to place advertising in a major American newspaper to let people know their opposition to the Futenma decisions being made by Tokyo. The groups of academics, journalists, and the Japan-U.S. Citizens for Okinawa network is planning to raise ¥6 million to place the advertising in a newspaper before the end of the month. The network is aligned with the Cato Institute, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Jun Hoshikawa, executive director of Green Peace Japan, says “One of the reasons why the Futenma issues isn’t moving forward is because it’s an issue knot known to most Americans.” He says it’s a “common problem with both Japanese and Americans, and that’s why we’ve decided to form a network to bridge the Japan-U.S. gap.”

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the Futenma issue, says Rose Welsch, a Tokyo resident aligned with U.S. For Okinawa, a peace action network. “When Americans have a chance to learn about what’s going on, we are appalled, absolutely appalled,” Welsch says, “and the more we learn the truth, the more strongly we start to feel we don’t want our government to operate an enormous, dangerous base in the middle of a densely populated city.” She says maintaining a base such as Futenma “is something that would never be allowed in our own country.”

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