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Hatoyama retreats on Futenma timeline

Date Posted: 2010-04-01

Japan’s Prime Minister is calling the signals, but there are questions and confusions about exactly what his intents are with regard to resolving the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation issue.

Yukio Hatoyama may know exactly what the game plan is, but the messages being delivered by Katsuya Okada, his Foreign Minister, are anything but clear. The Foreign Minister is in the United States delivering the Japanese party line to American leaders, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but his words aren’t quite in sync with those of his boss.

Hatoyama declared early this week he’s not sure exactly when he’ll have an answer on how to handle the Futenma relocation, saying he’s not legally bound to present a proposal any time soon. “There’s no legal basis on which we must come up with a government proposal within this month,” he said, backing down from a promise to have a Futenma plan by the end of March.

Foreign Minister Okada is meeting with American leaders, after getting guidance from Hatoyama and meetings with the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo. His messages, however, have varied from what the Prime Minister’s saying. Before leaving for the U.S., Okada told the American Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, there were two plans for resolving the dispute; Japan wanted a 550-meter-long helipad at Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa to take some of the helicopter traffic from Futenma, with creation of a manmade facility near White Beach and the Katsuren Peninsula to accommodate both Futenma’s functions and those of the Japanese Air Self Defense Force at Naha International Airport.

One other alternative was also presented to the Ambassador; to build a replacement facility on Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Island. For his part, Ambassador Roos is reported to have said the U.S. would “carefully consider” the Japanese plans.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wasn’t as easy going after receiving Foreign Minister Okada’s messages. He told the Japanese Foreign Minister the U.S. Marines now on Okinawa are a key element of the Japan-U.S. bilateral alliance, and called for a quick decision on a Futenma replacement. Okada told the U.S. defense leader Tokyo intends on having a plan by the end of May as originally promised.

Gates had no direct comment on the proposed plans, but the U.S. is on record as remaining in favor of the Henoko plan approved in a May 2006 agreement between the U.S. and Japan. Gates told Okada Japan will continue to be protected by America, including use of nuclear deterrence, and noted the renewal of a bilateral agreement for host nation support must be negotiated before the current pact expires next year.

The two-stage concept spelled out by Hatoyama and his leadership team is viewed by many to be unworkable. As now envisioned, the project could take a decade to complete, and makes nobody happy. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa has told Okinawa’s Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, there’s little likelihood of the 2006 agreement being honored, calling it “extremely close to zero”. Nakaima has planted his feet, telling Tokyo’s leaders Okinawa doesn’t want any Futenma replacement facility, which the U.S. insists is the only viable solution.

The Social Democratic Party’s policy board chairwoman, Tomoko Abe, and People’s New Party Diet Affairs committee Chairman Mikio Shimoji of Okinawa, have met with Hirofumi Hirano, Chief Cabinet Secretary, to object to the idea of a landfill facility off White Beach. They continue to argue the base should be moved to Guam. Kagoshima Prefecture Governor Yuichiro Ito, together with mayors of municipalities in Ito’s jurisdiction, have also told Hirano they want no part of hosting a Futenma replacement facility.

A rally protesting the proposal to relocate Futenma to the White Beach area drew a crowd of more than 600 Uruma residents, where they accused the government of “ignoring the feelings of Okinawans” and “trying to force us to accommodate a base”. In Tokyo, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mizuho Fukushima, echoed once more the SDP is “clearly against” plans to keep the Futenma replacement in Okinawa.

Compounding concerns for a solution is the American position that Futenma must stay in Okinawa if plans to move 8,000 Marines to Guam are to be realized within the next 6-8 years. The Deputy Undersecretary of Defense in charge of Installations and Environment testified before a U.S. Congressional hearing to warn Futenma and the Guam shift are linked. Dorothy Robyn told congressional leaders the transfer of 8,000 Marines would not take place to Guam unless an acceptable location for Futenma is reached by Prime Minister Hatoyama’s government.

The principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Derek Mitchell, said much the same think as he testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee. He told the senators there’ve been numerous studies over the past decade, and the current plans for moving Futenma to northern Okinawa’s Henoko area of Nago City are the best. Nago City’s Mayor, Susumu Inamine, has rejected the plan. “There is no chance of the plan being accepted by locals,” he said, adding, “We cannot trust the government policy of transferring function (to our area) only temporarily.”

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