Resolve Futenma issue by year-end
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reportedly has decided to give up on settling the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture this year.
Hatoyama's decision apparently stems from a desire to avoid ructions in the coalition government his Democratic Party of Japan formed with the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party. Hatoyama is unable to escape the fact that the SDP opposes the current relocation plan, and that the PNP also takes a dim view of it.
Hatoyama has reiterated that the agreement made between Tokyo and Washington on the relocation carries weight and that the feelings of the people in the prefecture should be respected. An early resolution to the issue with the current relocation plan is earnestly sought by the U.S. government, the Okinawa prefectural government as well as the Nago city government, which is where the base's facilities would be relocated. We think Hatoyama should rethink his stance on this matter.
In a summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama last month, Hatoyama agreed to "expeditiously" resolve the issue. Hatoyama even told Obama to "trust" him on the dispute. Ensuing ministerial-level working group talks then tried to smooth coordination in line with the current relocation plan.
If a decision will not be reached this year, what was the point of all these get-togethers and discussions?
The U.S. government's distrust of the prime minister and the Japanese government will certainly deepen due to this to-ing and fro-ing. The incentive at the working group talks to produce a positive result likely will evaporate. The adverse impact on the overall Japan-U.S. relationship could be immeasurable.
Hatoyama's postponement of a final decision until early next year or later is unlikely to result in any concrete scenario for the resolution of the issue.
A Nago mayoral election is scheduled to be held in late January. The incumbent, who has accepted the current plan, is running against a first-time candidate who has given it the thumbs-down. If the incumbent fails to win reelection, calls for moving the base outside the prefecture would grow louder, a situation that would leave the Okinawa prefectural government between a rock and a hard place.
Hatoyama himself admitted at a joint press conference with Obama after their summit meeting that resolving this issue will only become more difficult the longer it is left to simmer. The prime minister must not continue his expedient approach. If the current plan is shelved, the envisaged return of the Futenma facilities by 2014 would be left up in the air.
DPJ should pull rank
SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima has indicated her party might leave the coalition if the government decides to go ahead with the current plan.
The prime minister should do everything he can to convince the SDP that the issue must be settled by year-end under the current plan to reduce the burdens on communities that host the U.S. base and to ensure the security alliance with the United States remains solid.
If the SDP refuses to back down and eventually splits from the coalition, the administration would be shaken up for some time. However, it would not be an insurmountable nuisance for the government.
The DPJ holds more than 300 seats in the 480-seat House of Representatives, and is just shy of a majority in the House of Councillors.
The SDP and the PNP each have only five seats in the upper house. The DPJ must not jeopardize landmark measures designed to reduce the burden imposed on Okinawa Prefecture by hosting U.S. bases, or the Japan-U.S. relationship, by cowering to two minor coalition partners.
The Hatoyama administration also might find it worthwhile to call on the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition forces to cooperate on key bills and policies to keep the wheels of administration management turning smoothly.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 4, 2009)