PM must be decisive to avert crisis with U.S.
The Japan-U.S. security alliance is in a crisis situation now that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has placed priority on the state of the coalition government after flip-flopping in regard to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.
If the current situation is left as is, it might gravely impact Japan-U.S. relations as a whole, which cover not only security but also political and economic spheres.
Bilateral relations are in a worrisome state, and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has even admitted that the alliance with the United States had been "shaken a little bit." Hatoyama should face up to this fact and hammer out a constructive policy course on the relocation issue.
Whole plan in jeopardy
Bilateral ministerial-level talks on the issue have been suspended. This is because the Japanese government conveyed to the U.S. side its intention to postpone the settlement of the issue by the end of this year due to opposition from the Social Democratic Party--one of the junior coalition partners of Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan--toward the current relocation plan within the prefecture.
Washington, meanwhile, has notified Tokyo that it would postpone bilateral talks to "deepen" the security alliance, which had been planned as next year marks the 50th anniversary of the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
Hatoyama agreed at a summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama last month to "expeditiously" solve the Futenma relocation issue. But the prime minister then unilaterally decided to give up settling the issue before the new year due to domestic circumstances. Moves like this are unacceptable if the two nations seek to work together based on a relationship of trust.
The government must give serious consideration to how crucial it really is to postpone a settlement of the issue within this year.
If the government fails to solve the issue before the end of the year, the current relocation plan would effectively be shelved. It also would be extremely difficult to find an alternative site and the process as a whole would certainly take a great deal of time.
If this comes about, the Futenma base likely will continue for years to expose local residents to dangers due to its location in a densely populated part of Ginowan, and could even end up staying at its current location indefinitely. It also would increasingly risk the collapse of a plan to transfer 8,000 U.S. marines to Guam and return six U.S. military facilities to the nation.
Keep coalition in check
Some government officials are considering a plan to ask the United States to place priority on taking measures to mitigate burdens on people in the prefecture, such as the elimination of dangers posed by the Futenma base. But the possibility would be low for the United States to accept any plans that benefit only the Japanese side.
It also would be difficult to obtain the understanding of the United States if the government incorporates expenses necessary for the planned relocation in the next fiscal year's budget but has not accepted the current relocation plan.
After all, it is essential that the Japanese government clarify at an early stage that it supports the existing plan to relocate the Futenma base to a coastal area of the Henoko district of Nago, in the prefecture, where the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab is located, as agreed by the two governments in 2006.
We recently have seen several episodes in which the DPJ was swayed by its minor coalition partners--the SDP and the People's New Party--over such issues as the Futenma relocation and the budget compilation. Coupled with Hatoyama's lack of leadership, doubts on the coalition government's ability to implement policy are gathering steam.
The SDP threatened to leave the coalition when party leader Mizuho Fukushima said she would have to make "a grave decision" if the government decided to go along with the current relocation plan. We believe it is Hatoyama who must make a grave decision to resolve the Futenma issue as soon as possible, even it is at the cost of the coalition.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 10, 2009)