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Japanese foreign policy shifts of concern to U.S.

Date Posted: 2009-11-05

The Japanese government position shifts on Futenma, Indian Ocean refueling operations and continued host nation support to American forces has U.S. government officials wondering and worrying as they prepare for next week’s summit with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Tokyo.

American Defense and State Department leaders say they’re deeply concerned about what’s happening with the 2006 agreement between Japan and the U.S. that called for relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa, the first step in a plan that would move more than 8,000 U.S. Marines from the island to Guam by 2014. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has called for reevaluation of the agreement, and isn’t showing any sign of urgency in making a decision to confirm that his administration will adhere to the security agreement inked more than three years ago.

Splits within his own government are compounding American concerns; the Defense Minister thinks the Futenma relocation should proceed as agreed, while the Foreign Minister suggests the Henoko deal should be scrapped and the Marine air base consolidated at Kadena Air Base. Yoshimi Kitazawa, the Defense Minister, says it would be too complicated to change the location now. Katsuya Okada, the Foreign Minister, says he doesn’t “think it’s an option” to move the air base off Okinawa, calling for merging Futenma with Kadena instead. Japan’s Minister of Consumer Affairs, Mizuho Fukushima, stands firm on his conviction Futenma must be moved out of Okinawa.

The American newspaper The Wall Street Journal says of the Japanese government indecisiveness “This isn’t a minor tiff. Mr. Hatoyama’s grandstanding endangers the entire 2006 agreement.” The paper suggests that the new Prime Minister is locked into sticking with his campaign promises, “but it doesn’t sound like he’s thought much about the alternatives.”

The thorny issue is doubly troublesome because of the upcoming summit between Hatoyama and U.S. President Barack Obama. Futenma’s not the only foreign policy issue that complicates the relationship with America. Japan has refused to continue using Maritime Self Defense Forces for anti-terrorism ship refueling operations in the Indian Ocean, and has signaled it wants to reevaluate the Host Nation Support Agreement with America that has Japan paying a significant portion of stationing costs for U.S. troops in Japan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a Tokyo visit last week, warned that the Japanese government needs to “make decisions” on bilateral issues, including moving forward with the Futenma relocation plan. U.S. leaders are concerned about Hatoyama’s inability to come up with a plan for Japanese support in Afghanistan, and more importantly, the new government’s statements it wants to discuss a no-first-use nuclear policy with America. Foreign Minister Okada has brought up the nuclear issue, which involves America’s first-use policy as critical to maintaining its nuclear umbrella over Japan, which has no resources to do it.

A former National Security Council Director for counter-proliferation strategy, Carolyn Leddy, has flatly criticized Hatoyama’s leadership, calling Japan’s ideas for an East Asian Community that could lead it away from a relationship with the U.S. as “increasing security-policy schizophrenia,” adding that “Tokyo’s position t hreatens to undermine the cornerstone of East Asian security;’ the U.S. – Japan alliance…the DPJ’s ideas just don’t make sense.”

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