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Okinawa not impressed with new defense minister

Date Posted: 2012-06-08

Satoshi Morimoto is Japan’s new Defense Minister, and he has an uphill road to travel if he’s going to win over anyone in Okinawa.

Everyone from politicians to peace activists to citizens in the streets are disgruntled with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s choice of Morimoto, a professor at Takushoku University’s Graduate School, as the nation’s top defense leader. In Tokyo, though, reaction to Morimoto’s selection was mixed, with officials saying they hope he’ll be able to gain traction with the Diet as a non-politician. Others hope he’ll bring a solid set of contacts to the ministry.

Okinawans are not happy at all. Yoshitami Oshiro, a member of Nago City’s Municipal Assembly, vows “we will not tolerate the Futenma relocation to Henoko, Nago, whoever the new minister is, or even if he’s not a Diet member.” He’s leading the latest campaign against moving the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to the northern part of the island.

Other Okinawans are already apprehensive about Morimoto’s positions, noting he’s a history of underscoring the importance of Okinawa from a security standpoint. “Morimoto, as one of the brains of the former ruling Liberal Democratic Party, promoted the Henoko relocation,” says Hiroshi Ashitomi, an activist opposing the relocation. “His appointment goes against Okinawa’s interests.” A senior Okinawa Prefecture Government official expressed surprised that the key ministry post went to a non-career politician.

Hiroji Yamashiro, Director General of an Okinawa Peace Activity Center, says “I assume the administration chose Morimoto because his predecessor, Naoki Tanaka, was called an amateur minister, but it is awful.” Yamashiro says he has “no attachment or expectations for the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan. The OPG official agrees, noting “Morimoto has almost no connection with Okinawa. I hope he will take on board the wishes of Okinawans to reduce the burden of hosting U.S. forces and relocate Futenma outside the prefecture.

Tanaka, while bidding farewell to the Defense Ministry, said he still worries about Okinawa, and that it ‘weighs heavily’ on his political goals. “I have fulfilled my responsibilities as the defense minister,” he says, and promised “I will continue to do the same” outside the Cabinet.

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