Okinawa problem could boil over

August 1, 2010 

According to Asia analyst Peter Ennis, the August and November deadlines for finalizing plans for the realignment of U.S. bases in Okinawa and Guam will not be met.  In a Pan Orient Op Ed piece, Peter Ennis wrote:

Indeed, the political underpinnings of the 2006 bilateral “Roadmap” for realignment of US forces in Japan, of which the relocation of some 8,500 US Marines from Okinawa to Guam and the construction of a Futenma replacement facility are cornerstones, are coming undone in both countries.

It has been reported that the Japanese government will “defer decisions until after the Okinawa gubernatorial election, scheduled for late November.”  According to Ennis:

The Okinawa election is likely to institutionalize widespread opposition to construction of the Futenma replacement facility. Prime Minister Kan has already said he will not forcibly begin construction. To do so could easily spark broader opposition to US bases in Japan, which neither Washington nor Tokyo wants to see happen. So the stage is increasingly set for Tokyo, while ceaselessly voicing support for the replacement facility, to shrug its post-election shoulders and say it needs more (undefined) time to bring Okinawan opinion along.

Ennis poses the crucial question for the U.S.:

The big question now is how the Obama administration will respond to a situation over which it is rapidly losing even the pretense of control.


Japan government to reveal details of secret pact with U.S. allowing nuclear weapons into Japan

November 25, 2009 

The Democratic Party of Japan, the new ruling party that broke 60 years of conservative party domination, will reveal details of a secret agreement between Japan and the U.S. that allowed the U.S. military to bring nuclear weapons into Japan despite an explicit prohibition under Japanese law.  Ralph A. Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Pacific Forum reacted to this announcement by saying:  “This is not the type of issue your closest ally forces you to confront publicly…At a minimum, it adds unnecessary friction to the alliance and makes U.S. ship visits, which are now routine, once again a source of contention and a rallying point for protest.”

Actually, secretly bringing in nuclear weapons to the only country that was nuked in war is not the kind of issue you force your closest ally to accept.   And if there is anything adding “unnecessary friction” it would be the enormous U.S. military presence and its arrogant behavior in the region, i.e. destruction of an entire farming village in Pyeongtaek, S. Korea to make way for the expansion of a U.S. base, the proposed destruction of Henoko to expand Camp Schwab, the military inundation of Guam and the Northern Marianas despite the smothering impact this will have on Chamoru people, counter-insurgency disguised as “training” in Mindanao.   It’s the imperial conduct and secrecy of the U.S. that causes unnecessary friction, not the disclosure of the truth.


Japan says it will soon release details of nuclear pact with U.S.

Though existence of accord was known, move puts strain on ties

By Blaine Harden

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TOKYO — Japan’s new government, already bickering with the United States about the location of a Marine air station on Okinawa, appears intent on revealing evidence of a decades-old secret pact between Tokyo and Washington that allowed U.S. ships and aircraft to carry nuclear weapons on stopovers in Japan.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said that the investigation is in its final stages and that its findings will be announced in January. “We’ll be unburdening ourselves of the insistence of past governments that a secret agreement did not exist,” Okada said in a speech last weekend.

The pact violates a Japanese law that prohibits nuclear weapons from being made, possessed or stored on its territory. But disclosure of the 1960s-era agreement is hardly new. In general outline, its existence has been known for years because of declassified U.S. government documents.

Still, the Tokyo government’s insistence on an official investigation of the matter has placed new strain on U.S.-Japanese relations.

“This is not the type of issue your closest ally forces you to confront publicly,” said Ralph A. Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Pacific Forum, a think tank in Honolulu. “At a minimum, it adds unnecessary friction to the alliance and makes U.S. ship visits, which are now routine, once again a source of contention and a rallying point for protest.”

When Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Japan last month, he reportedly told Japan’s defense minister not to allow the investigation of the agreement to hurt bilateral relations or weaken U.S. nuclear deterrence. The U.S. government is treaty-bound to defend Japan in case of attack, and it has about 36,000 military personnel based here.

The traditionally close U.S.-Japan alliance has been knocked off balance in recent months by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s insistence that Japan be more assertive in controlling the heavy footprint of U.S. military forces on its soil.

During President Obama’s recent visit to Japan, he and Hatoyama agreed to create a working group of high-level officials from their countries to resolve a dispute over the location of the Futenma Marine air station in Okinawa. Noise and pollution from the base annoy local residents.

But the leaders have since disagreed over what the working group is supposed to do. Obama says it should focus only on implementing a three-year-old agreement to allow the air station to be relocated on Okinawa. Hatoyama says it must be able to do much more or else it is “meaningless.” He has said he wants the air station moved off Okinawa or outside Japan.

The dispute over the air station has become a highly publicized symbol of Japan’s new forcefulness in negotiations with its most important ally. It is also an early political test of the leadership ability of Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

To an even greater degree, Japan’s probe of the secret nuclear pact with the United States is as much symbol as substance.

In part, that is because the pact is now moot: Both governments say U.S. vessels no longer bring nuclear weapons into Japan.

But disclosing its existence has a clear political upside for the DPJ, which won a crushing victory in recent lower-house parliamentary elections and is preparing for another election in the upper house in the summer.

Publicity about the pact is almost certain to embarrass the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which until this fall had ruled Japan as a virtual one-party state for nearly half a century and quietly decided in the 1960s to ignore the law when nuclear-armed U.S. ships entered Japanese ports.

The LDP’s policy research council has said that full disclosure of diplomatic agreements “does not necessarily guarantee the protection of national interest.”

Yet there may well be a political price to pay. There is a profound populist antipathy to nuclear weapons in Japan. The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing about 220,000 people.

Another NYT article: Japan Cools to America

November 12, 2009

November 12, 2009

Japan Cools to America as It Prepares for Obama Visit


WASHINGTON — President Obama will arrive in Tokyo on Friday, at a time when America’s relations with Japan are at their most contentious since the trade wars of the 1990s — and back then, the fights were over luxury cars and semiconductors, not over whether the two countries should re-examine their half-century-old strategic relationship.

When Japan’s Democratic Party came to power in September, ending 50 years of largely one-party government, Obama administration officials put on an outwardly positive face, congratulating the newcomers. But quietly, some American officials expressed fears that the blunt criticism that the Japanese had directed at the United States during the political campaign would translate to a more contentious relationship.

Within weeks, those fears started to play out. The new Japanese government said the country would withdraw from an eight-year-old mission in the Indian Ocean to refuel warships supporting American efforts in Afghanistan.

The government also announced that it planned to revisit a 2006 agreement to relocate a Marine airfield on Okinawa to a less populated part of the island, and to move thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

And Japanese government officials have suddenly lost their shyness about publicly sparring with American officials, as evident in a dispute in September between Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, and the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, has called for a more equal relationship with the United States, and his government wants a review of the status of forces agreement, which protects American troops from Japanese legal prosecution. Japanese citizens, and Okinawans in particular, have demanded such a review for years.

When Mr. Hatoyama met Mr. Obama in New York during the United Nations General Assembly in September, the conditions seemed ripe for a kiss-and-make-up session. At their initial meeting, Mr. Obama congratulated Mr. Hatoyama “for running an extraordinary campaign” and complimented his party for “leading dramatic change in Japan.”

Mr. Hatoyama responded with the usual diplomatic niceties, telling reporters after the meeting that “I told President Obama that the Japan-U.S. alliance will continue to be the central pillar, key pillar of the security of Japan and Japanese foreign policy.”

But there were also a few awkward moments. Mr. Hatoyama and his wife, Miyuki, were the last to arrive at a leaders’ dinner at the Phipps Conservatory on the margins of the Group of 20 economic summit meeting in Pittsburgh later that week in September. Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, had been greeting arriving guests for almost two hours. “I’m sorry we were late,” Mrs. Hatoyama apologized.

A few days later, after the Obamas and the Hatoyamas flew to Copenhagen to lobby the International Olympic Committee for the 2016 Olympics, Tokyo beat out Chicago in the first round of voting, then was bumped as Rio de Janeiro took the prize.

But all of that paled in comparison with the uproar that erupted in Japan after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Tokyo in October. Mr. Gates, known for speaking bluntly, pressed Mr. Hatoyama and Japanese military officials to keep their commitment on the military agreements.

“It is time to move on,” Mr. Gates said, calling Japanese proposals to reopen the base issue “counterproductive.” Then, adding insult to injury in the eyes of Japanese commentators, Mr. Gates turned down invitations to attend a welcoming ceremony at the Defense Ministry and to dine with officials there.

In the weeks since, in advance of Mr. Obama’s visit, both countries have taken pains to tone down the rancor. The Japanese government has sent several high-level officials, including members of Parliament, to Washington to take the political temperature. Besides meeting with Obama administration officials, the Japanese representatives have spoken with members of research and policy groups based in Washington, particularly experts on foreign policy issues related to Japan.

“The feelers they’ve been putting out is, ‘Please don’t push us to make a decision because if you do, you’ll hear what you don’t want to hear,’ ” said Andrew L. Oros, a professor at Washington College and the author of “Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity and the Evolution of Security Practice.”

Japan’s new government is “trying to backtrack from some of their campaign rhetoric, but it’s too soon,” Mr. Oros said.

“This was a historic election,” he added. “They overturned 50 years of conservative rule. They can’t do everything at once.”

Indeed, the new government is under political pressure at home. More than 20,000 Okinawa residents held a protest rally against the base last week, and residents have been vociferous in letting the government know that they expect it to keep its campaign promises.

Administration officials said they had no intention of letting the relationship slide. Mr. Obama will be “looking to build his relationship and his personal ties with the new D.P.J. government there,” Jeffrey A. Bader, Mr. Obama’s senior director for East Asian affairs, told reporters on Monday, using the initials for the Democratic Party of Japan. “This government is looking for a more equal partnership with the United States. We are prepared to move in that direction.”

But the United States, while tamping down the tone of the discussion, is still pressing Japan, particularly on the Okinawa base issue. Mr. Obama, in an interview on Tuesday with NHK television of Japan, said Japan must honor the agreement.

While “it’s perfectly appropriate for the new government to want to re-examine how to move forward,” Mr. Obama told NHK, he added that he was “confident that once that review is completed that they will conclude that the alliance we have, the basing arrangements that have been discussed, all those things serve the interest of Japan and they will continue.”

In an effort to defuse tensions and perhaps make up for saying it would not refuel the Indian Ocean warships, Japan said Tuesday that it would sharply increase its nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan, pledging $5 billion for a variety of projects that include building schools and highways, training police officers, clearing land mines, and rehabilitating former Taliban fighters.

But even if the military squabble is eventually resolved, Japan’s economic relationship with the United States is being altered. China has now surpassed the United States as Japan’s major trading partner, a switch that economists expect to continue as China’s economy grows.

“Japan sees its future more within Asia,” said Eswar S. Prasad, an Asia specialist and professor at Cornell University. “They feel that they owe a lot less to the U.S. right now. U.S. economic policy is hurting them in a lot of ways, particularly with the decline in the value of the dollar versus the yen.”

US, Japan at odds over air base

October 26, 2009 

US, Japan at odds over air base

By North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy

Posted Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:11am AEDT

Japan’s new centre-left government is finding itself squeezed between the Obama administration and the people of the southern islands of Okinawa.

At the heart of the row is a US air base which the Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, had suggested could be moved.

But the Obama administration has rejected any talk of re-locating the base outside of Okinawa.

It has cast a shadow over the US President’s visit to Japan next month.

The United States has had air bases on Okinawa since 1945, when it occupied the island chain after a savage 82-day battle. There are now 14 US bases on Okinawa.

One of the biggest is Futenma, host of the 4,000-strong 1st Marine aircraft wing, which is located right in the heart of the city of 90,000 people.

Residents have long complained of noise and air pollution and threats to public safety from fighter jets, transport planes and attack helicopters – a protest which intensified after the crash of a Marine Corps helicopter into an Okinawa University five years ago.

During the election campaign two months ago, Mr Hatoyama spoke of moving Futenma out of Okinawa – an idea embraced by residents of the main island.

“I’d prefer to move Futenma right out of Okinawa,” one protester said.

“There are too many US bases and personnel here as it is.

“The Government must not ignore calls from the people of Okinawa to remove this base – it must go,” another resident said.

But the US marines are not going anywhere. While Washington has signed an agreement with Japan to move the Futenma base to another part of Okinawa, the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, has rejected any talk of shifting the base out of the island altogether.

And Mr Gates is prepared to play hardball with the Japanese.

“Without the Futenma realignment, the Futenma facility, there will be no consolidation of forces and return of land in Okinawa,” he said.

Washington would like to see this spat resolved before Mr Obama arrives, but Mr Hatoyama is refusing to be rushed.

“We won’t have an agreement before Mr Obama’s visit,” Mr Hatoyama said.

“We must take heed of the feelings of the Okinawan people.”

Mr Hatoyama has vowed to pursue a more equal relationship with Japan’s closest ally, but it seems on this issue Washington will not budge.

U.S. – Japan disagree about bases in Okinawa

October 26, 2009 

There are interesting developments in Japan over the fate of U.S. military bases in Okinawa.  The new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has made moves to revise the mutual security alliance and change plans to relocate a U.S. Marine base within Okinawa.  Okinawans have strongly opposed the new base in the Henoko area.   The new Japanese government also wants to end its logistical support for the U.S. wars in the middle east.


U.S. pressures Japan on military package

Washington concerned as new leaders in Tokyo look to redefine alliance

By John Pomfret and Blaine Harden

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Worried about a new direction in Japan’s foreign policy, the Obama administration warned the Tokyo government Wednesday of serious consequences if it reneges on a military realignment plan formulated to deal with a rising China.

The comments from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates underscored increasing concern among U.S. officials as Japan moves to redefine its alliance with the United States and its place in Asia. In August, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won an overwhelming victory in elections, ending more than 50 years of one-party rule.

For a U.S. administration burdened with challenges in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and China, troubles with its closest ally in Asia constitute a new complication.

A senior State Department official said the United States had “grown comfortable” thinking about Japan as a constant in U.S. relations in Asia. It no longer is, he said, adding that “the hardest thing right now is not China, it’s Japan.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the new ruling party lacks experience in government and came to power wanting politicians to be in charge, not the bureaucrats who traditionally ran the country from behind the scenes. Added to that is a deep malaise in a society that has been politically and economically adrift for two decades.

In the past week, officials from the DPJ have announced that Japan would withdraw from an eight-year-old mission in the Indian Ocean to refuel warships supporting U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. They have also pledged to reopen negotiations over a $26 billion military package that involves relocating a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter base in Japan and moving 8,000 U.S. Marines from Japan to Guam. After more than a decade of talks, the United States and Japan agreed on the deal in 2006.

The atmospherics of the relationship have also morphed, with Japanese politicians now publicly contradicting U.S. officials.

U.S. discomfort was on display Wednesday in Tokyo as Gates pressured the government, after meetings with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, to keep its commitment to the military agreement.

“It is time to move on,” Gates said, warning that if Japan pulls apart the troop “realignment road map,” it would be “immensely complicated and counterproductive.”

In a relationship in which protocol can be imbued with significance, Gates let his schedule do the talking, declining invitations to dine with Defense Ministry officials and to attend a welcome ceremony at the ministry.

Hatoyama said Gates’s presence in Japan “doesn’t mean we have to decide everything.”

For decades, the alliance with the United States was a cornerstone of Japanese policy, but it was also a crutch. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) outsourced many foreign policy decisions to Washington. The base realignment plan, for example, was worked out as a way to confront China’s expanding military by building up Guam as a counterweight to Beijing’s growing navy and by improving missile defense capabilities to offset China and North Korea’s increasingly formidable rocket forces.

The DPJ rode to power pledging to be more assertive in its relations with the United States and has seemed less committed to a robust military response to China’s rise. On the campaign trail, Hatoyama vowed to reexamine what he called “secret” agreements between the LDP and the United States over the storage or transshipment of nuclear weapons in Japan — a sensitive topic in the only country that has endured nuclear attacks.

He also pushed the idea of an East Asian Community, a sort of Asian version of the European Union, with China at its core.

Soon after the election, U.S. officials dismissed concerns that change was afoot, saying campaign rhetoric was to blame. Although most of those officials still say the alliance is strong, there is worry the DPJ is committed to transforming Japan’s foreign policy — but exactly how is unclear.

DPJ politicians have accused U.S. officials of not taking them seriously. Said Tadashi Inuzuka, a DPJ member of the upper house of Japan’s parliament, the Diet: “They should realize that we are the governing party now.”

Kent Calder, the director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a longtime U.S. diplomat in Japan, said that if Hatoyama succeeds in delaying a decision on the military package until next year, U.S. officials fear it could unravel.

Other Asian nations have privately reacted with alarm to Hatoyama’s call for the creation of the East Asian Community because they worry that the United States would be shut out.

“I think the U.S. has to be part of the Asia-Pacific and the overall architecture of cooperation within the Asia-Pacific,” Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said on a trip to Japan this month.

The theatrics of Japan’s relationship with Washington are new as well. Take, for instance, the dust-up last month between Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, and Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

On Sept. 9, Morrell demanded that Japan continue its refueling operation in the Indian Ocean. The next day, Fujisaki responded that such a decision was “up to Japan” and then said that Japan and the United States were “not on such terms where we talk through spokespeople.” The Hatoyama government has said that it will not extend the refueling mission when it expires in January.

Then, at a seminar in Washington on Oct. 14, Kuniko Tanioka, a DPJ member in the upper house, went head-to-head with Kevin Maher, director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, over the Futenma Air Station deal. Maher said the deal concerning the Marine Corps base had been completed. Tanioka said the negotiations lacked transparency.

Maher noted that a senior DPJ official had agreed that the deal must go through, at which point Tanioka snapped back, “I’m smarter than he is.”

“I have never seen this in 30 years,” Calder said. “I haven’t heard Japanese talking back to American diplomats that often, especially not publicly. The Americans usually say, ‘We have a deal,’ and the Japanese respond, ‘Ah soo desu ka,’ — we have a deal — and it’s over. This is new.”

Harden reported from Tokyo.

Japan’s new government investigates secret nuclear agreements with the U.S.

October 26, 2009 

Despite Japan’s pacifist constitution and aversion to nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Japan reached  a secret deal in the 1960s that allowed U.S. nuclear weapons into port and select locations.   The new government in Japan is now investigating these secret agreements.   Check out the National Security Archive for more background on this issue.


October 23, 2009

Japan Probes 1960s Nuclear Agreements With U.S.

Tokyo Leadership, Seeking Break With Past, Holds Fact-Finding Mission Into Once-Secret Pacts; Gates Warns of Damage to Ties


TOKYO — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned Japan this week against letting a fact-finding mission into decades-old secret nuclear-weapons agreements affect relations between the two countries, according to an official familiar with the matter.

In a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Wednesday, Mr. Gates said Japan also should avoid letting the probe hurt the U.S.’s antinuclear-proliferation efforts, the official said. Mr. Kitazawa said the government would handle confidential information sensitively, said the official.

Japan, the only nation that has endured nuclear attacks, forbids making, possessing and storing nuclear weapons on its soil. But under an understanding reached in the early 1960s, Japan agreed to look the other way when nuclear-armed U.S. ships used Japanese ports. A 1969 agreement allowed nuclear weapons to be stationed in emergency cases on U.S. bases on the island of Okinawa, after it was returned to Japanese control in 1972.

Many elements of the agreements have been disclosed previously. Both governments say the agreements no longer have teeth because nuclear-armed U.S. vessels no longer stop in Japan.

But Japan’s new government, now controlled by the Democratic Party of Japan after August elections, has launched a fact-finding investigation to make the agreements public and show how they were kept secret.

“In the past, prime ministers and foreign ministers of this country repeatedly denied the existence of the secret agreements and that eroded the public’s trust in the government’s foreign policy,” said Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.

Political analysts say the investigation is a largely symbolic move to show a change from governments run by the Liberal Democratic Party, which dominated Japanese politics for more than half a century, until last month.

“The DPJ wants to send a message to people that they have a new government with a different political style,” said Norihiko Narita, president of Surugadai University and an informal political adviser to the DPJ.

The LDP said some secrecy was necessary. “Full disclosure of information on diplomatic negotiations doesn’t necessarily guarantee the protection of national interest,” the party’s Policy Research Council said in a statement. “In conducting foreign policy, we always made our national interest and the well-being of our citizens the top priority, and disclosed what we could.”

The investigation comes as the DPJ reviews Japan’s overall foreign policy with a goal of giving Tokyo an equal role in its close bilateral ties with the U.S. Some experts say the probe seeks to discredit Japanese officials who had worked closely with Washington.

U.S. officials play down the potential impact of the investigation, saying the agreements are now out in the open and it is a domestic matter. “It is up to the Japanese government how they want to explore this,” said Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs.

The investigation has created a buzz in Japan, where the secret agreements were long discussed but always officially denied. “I am very much looking forward to the DPJ showing us what we couldn’t see before,” said Masaaki Ota, a 42-year-old Tokyo flower-shop owner who supports the DPJ.

While the agreements have been something of an open secret in Japan, U.S. government documents concerning them have been gradually declassified for years. After the DPJ began the fact-finding mission, George Washington University Professor Robert Wampler posted online a package of relevant documents from university archives.

One 1969 memorandum by Jeanne Davis of the National Security Council to members of the Nixon administration discusses nuclear-weapons policy in Okinawa after the handover back to Japan. One option: “Japn [sic] now acquiesces in transit by naval vessels armed with nuclear weapons. This right would extend automatically to Okinawa. (This is sensitive and closely held information).”

Another 1969 memo, by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Alexis Johnson, describes an exchange with Japanese Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi regarding the deployment and storage of nuclear weapons in Okinawa. “He said that [then Prime Minister Eisaku] Sato and we were, in event of renewal of hostilities in Korea, absolutely determined to implement this secret understanding and give full support to our actions in Korea,” Ambassador Johnson quoted the foreign minister as saying.

Write to Yuka Hayashi at

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

October 9, 2009 

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)

New party sweeps elections in Japan – What does it mean?

October 2, 2009 

In a recent election, Japanese voters ousted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and brought to power what had been the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). This is the first time that the LDP has not ruled, and it raises many questions about the prospects for the future of Japan, including the future of U.S. military bases in Japan and Okinawa.

The People’s Plan Japonesia website, a leading English Language Japanese political journal, carried an preliminary analysis of the election results by Muto Ichiyo, a respected political watcher. The article was prompted by an email from an Indian colleague:

Dear Muto san and friends in Japan, Suddenly, with the election results in Japan, there is a flood of memory about all you friends. The results look pretty unprecedented sitting here in India. But one has no idea whether it comes anywhere close to what you all have been struggling for all these years?! Or whether one should even hope for any changes; even mild. If anyone has written anything on it in English, or has the time to pen a small paragraph, it would really help to reconnect again. In admiration and with regards,

Vinod Raina Delhi, India September 1 2009

In response Muto writes:

Dear Vinod, I thank you for prompting me to write on it. The August 30 general election here has brought on the decisive downfall of the Liberal Democratic Party, ushering in a new dynamics in Japanese politics…

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for the first time tumbled down from its position of power. And this occurred because an overwhelming majority of Japanese voters felt enough is enough after a half-century of one-party rule by the LDP. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the major opposition party, saw its Lower House force explode from 115 to 308 seats, and the LDP’s strength shrank from 300 to 119. The New Komei Party, LDP’s coalition partner, lost all its seats from single seat constituencies, its total seats cut from 31 to 21.

While describing the election as “major change, even a drastic change”, Muto tempers his prognosis that “political dynamism which the election ushered in has created new possibilities as well as new dangers.”

Muto writes that “the major significance of the 2009 August election is that this [political] machinery [of the LDP and its power] has fallen apart.”   The radical neoliberal economic policies of the Koizumi administration and the resulting social and economic devastation of the poor, working, and middle classes helped to precipitate this political upheaval:  ““Market fundamentalism” and “neoliberal policies” had become negative symbols even in the mainstream media.”

Furthermore, two subsequent Prime Ministers from the LDP, including the ultra-right wing Shinzo Abe, were forced to resign.

While the DPJ is not a “left”party by any means, it appears that the new government is sincerely trying to break up the bureaucracy and its embedded interest groups that has dictated Japanese politics during the LDP era.   The new government has made some bold statements critical of the present U.S. – Japan military and security arrangement, but it remains to be seen whether it will aggressively pursue changes to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) or change the base realignment underway in Okinawa.  On this Muto writes:

One major question to be asked is if the new government is changing the Japan-U.S. security relations in meaningful ways. This is the touchstone of the new government’s will to change. In the post-Cold War period, Japan was brought into an ever-tighter U.S. military embrace than at the height of the Cold War as I discussed in detail in past issues of the Japonesia Review. Especially during the Bush period, the U.S. military transformation program turned Japan into a cog in the U.S. global military apparatus, even institutionally subjecting Japanese military forces to American command. Confronting persistent resistance from local people, the Japanese and U.S. governments were dead-set on imposing a new military base on Okinawa. In the 2009 Manifesto, the DPJ states that “in order to create a close and equal Japan-U.S. relationship, we will propose amending the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces agreement, and will consider revising the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, as well as reviewing the nature of U.S. bases in Japan.” (translation by the Japan Times) You may think this is a bold statement defying the American dominance. But I am not sure whether the DPJ government is going to seriously negotiate this matter with Washington.

There is an episode that may be prognostic. When negotiating terms of its coalition with the Social Democratic Party, then-DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya was reluctant to mention renegotiation of the Status of Forces agreement in the coalition accord. SDP Chair Fukushima Mizuho adamantly insisted on this point, and Okada only grudgingly and patronizingly agreed to include in the accord the exact phrase that had been printed and widely publicized in the party Manifesto. The negotiations dragged on and on because Okada said he did not want to provoke US President Obama. Okada was subsequently appointed Foreign Minister. Is this Foreign Minister going to negotiate with Washington, or just beg?

Muto points out a number of key leaders in the DPJ that raise concerns, including Ozawa Ichiro:

The recognized strongest man of the party, Ozawa Ichiro, former secretary general of the LDP, and now appointed Secretary General of the DPJ, is one of the major strategists who advocated “Japan as an ordinary country.” His scenario of turning Japan into a country having fully legitimate military forces through the revision of constitution is shared by all conservative politicians.

He sums up that:

…there is an alarming gap between what one says and what one is, a gap that unsettles, and even scares, me. For without principles, one can change from one to the other extreme without qualms. That is why I said that this change can entail dangers as well as possibilities.

The DPJ, in order to be consistent, need to establish principled positions at least on the following issues, (1) the military alliance with the United States, (2) self-critical view of history, (3) neoliberal capitalism, and (4) the constitution. The party says a bit of something on each of these, but is articulate on none.

In conclusion, Muto sees hope coming from the grassroots movements:

This means that now is the time when social movements working on different fronts – labor, women, peace, welfare, environment, agriculture – should get together to establish their common principled positions and visions of Japanese society. That is to tell the DPJ government that we are here and will stay here until you take principled positions on crucial matters and act accordingly. This does include lobbying activities but the main approach is not lobbying but the influence we exert on the DPJ government through our uncompromising presence in the midst of society. Such pressure from below may split the party, triggering a process of reconsolidation of parliamentary political forces toward a sounder, more principled disposition of political forces, a welcome outcome benefiting our march forward.

The full article can be read here: