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Hatoyama asks Okinawa to bear presence of U.S. forces

Date Posted: 2010-05-06

Yukio Hatoyama made his first visit to Okinawa as Prime Minister, and the message he bore was anything but satisfying to the local citizens as he apologized for going against a campaign promise: “I must accept your feelings, but I would like the people of the whole country to understand, and be willing to share the burden, because the bases are necessary for our national security.”

It was a turn-about from his promise while campaigning with the Democratic Party of Japan last summer, when he promised to move Futenma Marine Corps Air Station away from Okinawa, and possibly, from Japan. Hatoyama told Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, that at least a significant part of Futenma will be moved to northern Okinawa, as defined in a 2006 pact made between Japan and the United States.

“In terms of deterrence, I have determined that transferring all of the functions at Futenma outside the prefecture or abroad is difficult,” Hatoyama explained to the public after talking to Nakaima. He asked the governor and the citizens of Okinawa to continue bearing the burden of the base, apologizing to Okinawan people for its handling of the entire Futenma issue.

The Prime Minister’s words did not sit well with Okinawans. “From before the election, he was promising to move the base out,” Chikako Toguchi of Nago said. Referring to the election, the 48-year-old said “that’s why a lot of my friends and I voted for the Democrats. If it turns out he just said that to win the election, he has made fools of the Okinawans.” An estimated 600 demonstrators faced Hatoyama at the Prefectural Office and many more had gathered to places he paid a visit during his one-day visit Tuesday.

Hatoyama visited Ginowan City and the present Futenma, then traveled north to see the proposed Futenma site at Nago City’s Henoko district at Camp Schwab. He also visited Peace Memorial Park in Itoman City to pay respects to those who died in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Governor Hirokazu Nakaima was more calm than many demonstrators and politicians who lambasted the Prime Minister for his position change and failure to live up to his promise. Nakaima asked Hatoyama to keep working to resolve the Futenma issue “in a visible way”, and asking for further consolidations of American bases, including Kadena Air Base and other facilities to the north. “Calls for Futenma to be transferred outside the prefecture are growing,” Nakaima told the Prime Minister. “I want the government to take them seriously and make efforts to remove risks.”

There’s still uncertainty about exactly what Hatoyama intends to do. It appeared during his visit that he’s now accepting the vast majority of points in the 2006 Japan-U.S. Agreement, which puts the replacement airfield at Henoko. What does appear to have changed is a switch from land reclamation to cover a pair of V-shape 2,500-meter runways extending into Oura Bay adjacent to Camp Schwab to a single 1,800-meter runway to be built on stilts in the water over the bay. The Prime Minister is reportedly believing this, together with shifting some Marine Air Wings assets and personnel to Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture, will solve the problem.

Not so, say residents of the tiny Tokunoshima at the far southern tip of Kagoshima Prefecture. More than half of the island’s residents—some 15,000 people—staged a demonstration several weeks ago against having the Americans move in, and the island’s three mayors are preparing to visit Hatoyama’s office in Tokyo Friday to tell him personally that they want nothing to do with moving troops or aircraft from Okinawa to their island. Tokunoshima is 200 kilometers north of Okinawa’s main island, a distance even American military officials contend is too far to effectively provide training and contingency reaction times for the Marines the air units are tasked with supporting.

Hatoyama is committed to making a final decision on Futenma before the end of this month. While this week’s visit and talks signaled the Henoko plan to be alive and well, Governor Nakaima continues to encourage the central government to move the base away from Okinawa. Local politicians are furious with Hatoyama’s position switch. Some, including Mikio Shimoji and Denny Tamaki, are feeling exposed, since they’ve been steadfastly believing Futenma’s operations would leave Okinawa.

“What happened to your promise in the election?”, people shouted at Hatoyama, leaving him on the defense, apologizing repeatedly at various stops along the way Tuesday. He tried explaining to citizens how much he had learned about the criticality of keeping the Marines because of the comprehensive security agreement and it’s protection of Japan. It was not a happy day for Hatoyama, who appeared solemn and downcast as he made his way through the visit.

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