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New Defense Minister retracts base remarks

Date Posted: 2012-01-19

Naoki Tanaka is off to a rocky start as Japan’s new Defense Minister, first making remarks about how he envisions work beginning on relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station before the end of this year, then having to scramble to retract the remarks only a couple days later after taking a ton of flak from the opposition.

Tanaka told a television interviewer “whether we can begin the construction within this year has been a focus of the procedures for the time being, but we cannot move the project forward without the acceptance of the people of Okinawa. Although he couched his comments with that caveat of endorsement by Okinawa Prefecture and local leaders, it wasn’t enough.

“Japan’s politics will lose the world’s confidence unless we deal with this matter properly,” he said, and that set off the opposition camp. Tanaka was quickly branded “an amateur” by the secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, Nobuteru Ishihara. Hours later, Tanaka was backing off from his “by the end of the year” comment made at a Monday news conference, changing his tune to explain “It’s not about setting an exact time frame, goal or deadline.”

One goal that’s very real is next Tuesday, when the Diet opens its first session of 2012. Based upon the ferocity of negative attacks on Tanaka, the coming weeks could be rough on him. Tanaka was appointed Defense Minister less than a week ago by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who fired Yasuo Ichikawa for making derogatory remarks.

Tanaka two days ago reiterated his intention to visit Okinawa Prefecture before the ordinary Diet session starts on Jan. 24th, saying he wants to hold talks with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima in an effort to win support for the planned relocation of Futenma. Nakaima must issue a permit in order for any landfill work on the reclamation project to start.

Tanaka is considering a visit to Okinawa for two days, starting Sunday. He is also planning to hold talks in Tokyo tomorrow with Nakaima, who is traveling to the capital city today.

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