Futenma policy change, efforts to persuade too late
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama at last visited Okinawa Prefecture, his first visit since he took office in September.
While the self-imposed deadline of May 31 is approaching for concluding the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, Hatoyama could not even express concrete relocation plans.
As his change of policy, from one that would relocate the functions of the Futenma base outside the prefecture to one that would relocate them mostly within the prefecture, came too late, his efforts to persuade the people of Okinawa into accepting his new policy has become even more difficult.
During his talks with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Tuesday, Hatoyama said: "It would be difficult to relocate all the functions [of the Futenma base] outside the prefecture. I have to ask the residents of Okinawa to bear a burden."
By saying this, Hatoyama hinted he planned to keep part of the functions of the Futenma air base within the prefecture.
The government is coordinating views to replace the existing plan--agreed on in 2006 between Tokyo and Washington--to construct a V-shaped pair of runways by reclaiming land from the sea near the marines' Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture with one to build part of the runway on a so-called quick installation platform, coupled with transferring helicopter troops to Tokunoshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture.
U.S. unhappy with plan
Yet the U.S. side showed its disapproval of transferring the helicopter troops to Tokunoshima island, which is far from Okinawa Prefecture, where other marines are stationed. Furthermore, because of safety concerns, it remains uncertain whether the U.S. side would agree to the installation platform method.
Hatoyama made no reference to any specific relocation sites during his visit to Okinawa, presumably because of these circumstances.
If he was earnestly considering settling the relocation issue by the end of May, he should have presented to Okinawa concrete plans and started coordinating views with the local governments much earlier. It is no longer the time for Hatoyama to meet with heads of local governments concerned as if he was merely setting up an excuse for failure.
The meandering course of action taken so far by the government is just dreadful.
To protect the honor of its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, which calls for relocating the Futenma base functions outside the country, the government wasted precious time by inspecting alternative sites, including Guam.
Meanwhile, ideas surfaced and then sank, such as the one of building a land-based replacement facility for Futenma in Camp Schwab or the one of reclaiming an area off the U.S. Navy's White Beach facility in Uruma, also in Okinawa Prefecture. Both ideas were rejected in the past. The quick installation platform method was also taken up for study 14 years ago.
Past lessons ignored
While the government has not made any use whatsoever of the results and knowledge accumulated through many years of study done by Japan and the United States, and politicians have offered one relocation plan after another--with none of them informed by principle--every new plan seems to have been giving the people of Okinawa the runaround.
This can be considered a typical example of the pernicious results of "initiatives taken by politicians in forming policies," which the Democratic Party of Japan much advocates.
Needless to say, it is Hatoyama who is most to blame.
While Hatoyama fanned expectations of the people of Okinawa for realizing "the relocation outside the prefecture at a minimum" but now says, "It would be difficult to relocate all the functions from the viewpoint of deterrence," it is only natural for the people of Okinawa to feel resentful.
Hatoyama should have changed his policy much earlier to aim at relocating the functions within the prefecture from the viewpoint of security and have apologized to the people of Okinawa for the policy shift.
It is also absurd for him to condemn the existing plan. Hatoyama recently began calling the land reclamation of the waters near Camp Schwab as envisaged under the plan a "sacrilege against nature." If he truly believes this, he should have said so in the first place. It appears that Hatoyama is trying to modify the existing plan merely for the sake of saving face.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 5, 2010)