New Base Deal Drives Wedge through Japanese Gov't
    2010-05-29 14:25:23     Xinhua      Web Editor: Jiang Aitao

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) shakes hands with her Japanese counterpart Katsuya Okada before their meeting in Tokyo May 21, 2010. [Photo: Xinhua/Reuters]

Japan and the United States announced in a joint statement a new framework of agreement regarding the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, the subject of a steadily escalating debate that has tested the resolve of Washington and raised questions about Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's ability to govern.

The announcement on Friday was supposed to settle a debate over the issue that had become exhaustive, but it only served to fan the flames of betrayal and uncertainty felt by Okinawans that may never fully be extinguished having burned so fiercely for so long.

Indeed, as much as the decision has served to drive the political wedge further between Okinawa and mainland Japan, it has also caused a rift in the ruling coalition following Hatoyama's forcible dismissal of Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Mizuho Fukushima, who, not wishing to betray the people of Okinawa, refused to sign a Cabinet document sanctioning the plan.

The whole ordeal has left all and sundry utterly flummoxed.

Hatoyama has dithered, bungled, deceived, flip-flopped and fumbled his way back to the exact point he started from when he took office last September, regarding the relocation of the Futenma facility, numerous political pundits are asserting.

In 2006 after some thirteen years of deliberation Japan and the United States agreed on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, which featured the relocation of the heliport functions of Futenma to a coastal area of the U.S. Marines' Camp Schwab and the building of two 1,600-meter runways in a V-shaped formation.

The 2010 accord made on Friday stipulates that the replacement facility will be located at the U.S. Marines' Camp Schwab Henoko- saki area and adjacent waters, with the runway portion(s) of the facility to be 1,800 meters long.

Under the new plan, more military training exercises will be transferred outside of Okinawa, with Tokunoshima Island mentioned again by Hatoyama as a possible candidate site -- despite the three mayors and residents of the tiny island's flat-out rejection of the idea.

For all intents and purposes, the original bilateral accord from 2006 still stands (albeit with the United States gaining 400 meters worth of extra runway length) -- Washington maintained all along that the 2006 pact represented the best way forward, meanwhile Hatoyama was jumping through as many hoops as he himself could create, before finally jumping through the first one all over again.

"The only thing Hatoyama could do is return to the original plan. The opposition parties will be angry, and so will the public, especially the people of Okinawa," commented Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation think tank, in a recent analysis of the situation.

SMR analyst Daniel Stewart hit the nail on the head with his epigrammatic summary of Hatoyama's current predicament.

"Prime Minister Hatoyama has shot himself in the foot again on the vexed issue of the U.S. base on Okinawa. He originally pledged to close it as part of his landslidewinning platform last August. He has now changed his mind but his coalition partners and the good citizens of Okinawa have not. He is now facing defeat in the forthcoming upper house election. He has apologized for breaking his pledge and is (of course) using the Korean situation as cover, " said Stewart in a recent editorial on the matter.

The prime minister having reneged on his pre-election promise to move the base "at least" outside Okinawa also gave up on reaching an agreement with future prospective hosts and the coalition parties by his self-imposed deadline and fully prioritized striking a deal with the United States. This, according to notable political insiders, was certainly the path of least resistance, considering the United States had made its mind up on the issue back in 2006.


Thousands of people gathered in Nago on Friday to express their disgust at Hatoyama's U-turn having raised their hopes of military emancipation.

His flagrant backtracking on the issue since he took office in September has the entire nation questioning his credibility as a leader and has seen the support rate for his Cabinet plunge to levels that have previously necessitated the resignation of a number of his predecessors, which will certainly play into the hands of the leading opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), when it comes to the key upper house elections this summer.

Hatoyama has repeatedly vowed to relocate the Futenma facility outside Okinawa prefecture, starting with the then opposition Democratic Party's "Okinawa Vision 2008" campaign launched in July 2008, the fundamental premise of which was to move the base out of Okinawa and eventually out of Japan all together.

This became the mantra that, to a significant degree, as political pundits would attest, propelled the Democratic party of Japan (DPJ) President through his election campaign and into the prime ministerial office.

The question remains, however, as elementary as it sounds, why make a promise you have no chance of keeping?

Local media reported Friday that Susumu Inamine, mayor of Nago, whose coastal area Henoko has been mentioned in the agreement as Futenma's relocation site, said the probability of the Marine base being relocated there is "zero." He told local reporters he would not even involve himself in further negotiations with the central government.

Anger and a sense of betrayal and resentment has reached fever pitch in Okinawa, following Friday's announcement.

"The ancestors of the Hatoyama family will cry, saying, ' Grandson the liar,'" local reports quoted Okinawa resident Muneyoshi Kayo as saying with reference to Hatoyama's grandfather, former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama.

"I'm just outraged and I'm not a native Okinawan although I' ve lived here for almost 30 years," Christopher Bellamy, general manager of a prominent international hotel in Naha, Okinawa, told Xinhua by phone.

"I've got staff members in tears, screaming: 'Why? Why? Why?' it's really traumatic for everyone here. We all feel foolish now for believing things would change -- there's a really bitter feeling in the air."

"I have nothing against the U.S. military generally, but I don' t know any locals who haven't had some kind of negative experience. I think Okinawa's had enough," he said.

In fact the defense ministry reported this month that 50 percent of crimes and accidents that take place on Okinawa are linked to the U.S. military, perhaps none more heinous than the 1995 rape of a 12-year old girl by three U.S. servicemen.

"Part of the reason may be due to the premier's political hubris," the Wall Street Journal proffered as an explanation to the completion of Hatoyama's turnaround on Friday.

"He was catapulted into office in August with a popularity rating of more than 70 percent and the political capital to make a decision and stick to it. He promised during the campaign to " rebalance" the U.S.-Japan relationship without a clear idea of how to do it..."

"To its credit, the Obama Administration immediately sent everyone from the national security advisor to the defense secretary to Tokyo to talk some sense into the new Democratic Party-led coalition. The public pressure -- unusual for the two alliance partners -- alerted the Japanese public to the seriousness of the blunder and Mr. Hatoyama's public-approval ratings started to fall."


Deposed Cabinet minister Mizuho Fukushima hinted Saturday that the SDP would not so much as quit the coalition, but were effectively being kicked out for their stance on Futenma.

Such a split would be very untimely for Hatoyama's Democratic Party ahead of an upper house election in July, but would not signal the end of the DPJ as they retain a vast majority in parliament's more powerful lower house, but in the long term, perhaps the damage already done is irrevocable.

"The damage to his government has, of course, already been done, because the damage to the government's reputation had less to do with the substance of the realignment plan.. than with the government's gross incompetence in its handling of the issue," said Tobias Harris, a specialist on Japanese politics and former employee of a DPJ upper house member, in a recent commentary on his "Observing Japan" website.

"Despite its persistent efforts to remind the public that all options were on the table, I wonder whether the public will see the government's actions as anything but capitulation after months of dithering," Harris said.


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