What is the new Japanese government’s position on U.S. bases in Okinawa?

As these two articles illustrate, the  new government under the Democratic Party of Japan, which committed in a pre-election manifesto to “move in the direction of re-examining the realignment of the U.S. military forces in Japan,” is not in complete unity about its position.   The DPJ position has been to move the U.S. Futenma military base presently at Ginowan, Okinawa, out of the prefecture entirely.  But Hatoyama made, then retracted comments that the government may be close to approving plans to relocate the Futenma base to Henoko, Okinawa, a site of consistent protest by Okinawans.  This  may indicate a split within the ruling party leadership.   We’ll have to wait and see what develops.


Japan threatens to kick out US troops

Japan is threatening to ask US troops based on the island of Okinawa to leave the country amid growing resentment over crime.


By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

Published: 6:11PM BST 07 Oct 2009

The new government is reviewing an agreement with Washington on US military facilities following through on a campaign pledge to islanders who have borne the brunt of the American presence for more than 60 years.

Around 50,000 American troops are based in Japan , around two-thirds of the total are in Okinawa . Resentment against their presence has grown in recent years due to a series of crimes committed by service personnel.

Many of the crimes are relatively trivial, but other cases have brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets. In February 2008, a case against a marine accused of raping a girl aged 14 was dropped after she withdrew the accusation, apparently to avoid the ordeal of a trial.

The case revived bitter memories of the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 1995 by three US servicemen.

Katsuya Okada, the foreign minister, said he wants the American military to remain in Japan but that the concentration on Japan ‘s most southerly islands needed to be reduced.

“The only way this presence can be sustained in the long term is to make sure that the burden on the Okinawans is decreased in some way,” he said. “Only by accomplishing these goals will we be able to ensure that the US-Japan alliance will be sustainable.”

Another long-standing complaint against the US forces is pollution and the noise their aircraft make during practice flights, particularly at bases that are in the most densely populated parts of the island.

The most seriously affected municipality is Ginowan, which surrounds the Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station.

The previous Japanese government had reached an agreement with Washington to transfer 8,000 Marines and their dependants to the Pacific island of Guam by 2012, close the Futenma facility and transfer its functions to an enlarged US base on the north-east coast of the prefecture.

The plan has been attacked by people living close to Camp Schwab and environmentalists, who claim that the proposal for new runways built on reclaimed land will devastate the local flora and fauna.

The US has stated that it wants to stick with the existing plan. John Roos, the US ambassador to Tokyo , said on Friday that Japan will be given time “to analyse, to review, to ask questions and, hopefully, come to the conclusion that it is in both parties’ best interests.”

It is not at all certain that Yukio Hatoyama, the prime minister, agrees with that assessment as he has been a vocal critic of U.S. foreign and financial policies, as well as expressing a desire to follow a more independent security line than previous Japanese governments.

Mr Hatoyama himself has indicated that he would support reducing the burden on the people of Okinawa by moving the activities of Futenma out of the prefecture entirely.

Work to review the agreement began in the Japanese cabinet on Friday, with no deadline set for a decision, according to Mr Okada.

The urgency of the situation is underlined by the arrival in Japan in November of President Barack Obama, who will arrive with hopes of settling the contentious issue once and for all.



Hatoyama now backtracking on Futenma relocation pledge



Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama appears to be vacillating on his party’s election pledge to consider relocating a major U.S. facility out of Okinawa Prefecture.

Meeting reporters Wednesday, Hatoyama indicated his government may eventually approve the current Japan-U.S. agreement to relocate the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Henoko in Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture.

But on Thursday, he was at pains to emphasize that he did not mention Henoko in his previous remarks.

His comments Wednesday would undermine a Democratic Party of Japan election pledge to “move in the direction of re-examining the realignment of the U.S. military forces in Japan.”

The DPJ has previously called for the Futenma facility, located in a crowded residential area in Ginowan, to be relocated to another part of Japan to ease the burden of bases on Okinawan residents.

“I do not deny the possibility that (the pledges in the DPJ’s manifesto) could change because of a time factor,” Hatoyama said Wednesday, indicating Henoko could be an option after all.

The current plan to relocate the facility to Henoko point was formally agreed to in 2006 under the Liberal Democratic Party administration as part of the “road map” for the realignment of U.S. forces.

The prime minister’s remark was taken to reflect the growing belief in his government, through talks with U.S. officials and a review of the agreement, that finding an alternative site will be difficult.

“The manifesto is a promise, so it should not be changed easily,” he said Wednesday. But he added that “there is the Japan-U.S. agreement as a premise. The greatest question is whether under that premise we can shape a plan in ways to gain the understanding of Okinawa Prefecture residents.”

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada made a similar comment Wednesday in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

“We are seeking ways to further reduce the burden on Okinawa,” he said, indicating the party was continuing to look for an alternative site for the relocation.

But he said at the same time that “it is a fact that both the Japanese and U.S. governments had worked under the agreement.”

After his apparent change of stance was reported, Hatoyama said Thursday he did not mean to say the government will approve the LDP administration’s agreement with Washington “as it is.”

Hatoyama said he would honor a coalition agreement with two junior partners to review the bases issue to lessen the burden on Okinawa.(IHT/Asahi: October 9,2009)

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