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Okinawa governor upset by former Consul General’s 'extortion' remark

Date Posted: 2011-03-13

Reaction to reports that the former Consul General at the American Consulate Naha had made disparaging remarks about Okinawa and the Okinawan people drew swift comment from Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.

Nakaima expressed dismay at a remark made by Kevin Maher, who served as consul general, the top U.S. envoy, in Okinawa from 2006 and 2009 after joining the State Department in 1981 and being posted to Tokyo and Fukuoka. Maher, speaking before an American University student audience in Washington D.C., described Okinawans as “masters of manipulation and extortion”, and called them “lazy”.

‘‘His remarks make me question what the U.S. consular office in Okinawa exists for,’’ Nakaima told reporters. ‘‘I wonder what he learned in Okinawa when he was here.’‘

The 56-year-old Maher, who is in charge of Japanese affairs at the U.S. State Department, talked about his experience of negotiating with Japan over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to Nago, another location in the prefecture, which is stiffly opposed by Okinawa citizens.

Maher is refusing “to comment on the record at this time,’’ saying his briefing was an off-the-record event. He said the account made available to Kyodo News is ‘‘neither accurate nor complete.’‘ Maher spoke on Dec 3 at the request of American University to a group of 14 students just before their roughly two-week study tour to Tokyo and Okinawa. In the speech, Maher was quoted as saying, ‘‘Consensus building is important in Japanese culture. While the Japanese would call this ‘consensus,’ they mean ‘extortion’ and use this culture of consensus as a means of extortion.’‘

‘‘By pretending to seek consensus,” Maher said, “people try to get as much money as possible.” Maher also criticized people in Okinawa as ‘‘too lazy to grow ‘goya’”, a bitter melon’ which is a traditional summer vegetable grown in Okinawa.

In Tokyo, top government spokesman Yukio Edano told a news conference, ‘‘I do not think it is necessary to verify every remark (made by a U.S. official) based solely on news reports,’’ noting that their two countries regularly discuss and share mutual understanding on a wide range of bilateral issues.

Edano made his remark when asked if the government would make inquiries with the United States about the matter.

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