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Militaro-Diplomatic Ballet Intensifies in Okinawa

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 1999-11-10

Okinawa Prefecture has recently been undergoing intense politico-diplomatic activities which, as many official sources acknowledge, have a lot to do with next year’s Summit of the world’s most industrialized powers and Russia. Many members of the Japanese Government in Tokyo, and several diplomats representing some G-8 countries, have been flying to the island to discuss “serious political, economic and strategic issues that may have a lot to do with the success of the upcoming Summit.”

One remarkable visit to Okinawa last week from Tokyo was that of the Japanese Defense Agency’s Director General Tsutomu Kawara. According to a senior official at the Okinawa Liaison Office of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Issei Nomura received the Defense Agency chieftain for a wide range of discussions.

Director General Kawara, accompanied by several other government officials, also paid a highly publicized courtesy call to the Marine Corps Air Station on Futenma, Ginowan City, where he met the Okinawa Area Coordinator for US Forces, LtGen. Earl B. Hailston. The American top military official had with him component commanders of the US Forces on Okinawa. Both Japanese and American officials seemed quite excited about the encounter when Gen. Hailston stepped out to meet Japan’s Defense boss at the foot of the helicopter that flew him to Futenma. Though there was no official press statement following this meeting, one US military officer later told Japan Update that it was more a general friendship encounter, not one dealing with particular issues such as the relocation of Futenma base.

Okinawa Prefecture and the US Military installations will have to be regular hosts of a long, high level ballet of the politic before, during and after the G-8 Summit. Mitsushiro Toyama of the Foreign Ministry Liaison Office in Okinawa told Japan Update that they have been kept very busy these last weeks with such high level visits from Tokyo. Japan’s Foreign Minister Yohei Kono has had to make two trips to meet with local officials this last month due to the high number of important issues they must address as the Summit approaches. Mr. Kono was in Okinawa on October 22nd, and came back again on October 29th when he had a working reception hosted by Ambassador Nomura.

Though most of the topics these officials discuss are not always fully disclosed to the press, it is clear that the relocation of MCAS Futenma is still high on the agenda. US President Bill Clinton raised more than a few eyebrows last summer in Europe when he suggested rather loudly that he would want the issue of relocation settled before the G-8 Summit. It is possible that the President did not want his declaration to be perceived as a veiled threat of any kind. Nevertheless, some officials and pundits in Japan interpreted and treated it as such. Some have taken it as an indication that Bill Clinton may be tempted to stay away if a new site for the vital Marine air facility is not found within the next few months.

Under national and international pressure - though avoiding to let pressure dominate his choices - the charismatic, base-friendly Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, Keichi Inamine has come up with proposals that may solve the problem for a long time. He has succeeded in getting his local assembly to adopt a plan for relocation that may satisfy a majority of politicians, American and Japanese military strategists, and social activists alike. It is quite possible that most of the high level meetings nowadays are related to the discussion and adoption of a final decision on Futenma, preferably before the G-8 Summit arrives.

Summit issues also seem to be a pre-occupation for Japan’s main western ally, the United States of America. A high ranking official from the US Embassy in Tokyo was on the ground last week to make personal contact with Okinawan officials and familiarize himself with the Prefecture of the 2000 G-8 Summit. According to a spokesperson at the US Consulate General, Naha, more of such visits are expected within the next months, as US officials are expected to come and check out the Summit site, hotels and other details tied with next year’s major event on Okinawa.

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