No one will believe Hatoyama's words
After breaking his promise to transfer the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture to somewhere outside the prefecture, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has effectively violated another promise, this one to settle the Futenma issue by the end of May.
The prime minister said Thursday that if necessary, he would make efforts to settle the issue "in June and even beyond." He thereby abandoned his end of May deadline, but on the following day, he again expressed his determination to resolve the issue by the end of this month.
Seeing Hatoyama running around in all directions, a great many people must now be unable to believe what he says. There must be practically no one in this country who believes the Futenma issue will be settled by the end of this month.
Hatoyama has maintained that "settling" the Futenma base relocation issue means reaching agreement with all the parties involved, namely the local governments and people of Okinawa Prefecture, the local governments of locations to which the Futenma base's functions would be relocated, the U.S. government and the ruling parties.
Ultimately, he failed one by one to obtain agreement from each of these parties and finally had to change the definition of settlement. This is the reality of the situation.
Premier lacks leadership ability
The ability to find solutions to serious problems and the decisiveness to put those solutions into practice are indispensable in a government leader. Hatoyama lacks these resources.
Hatoyama had a good chance to resolve the Futenma issue in December. However, he quickly postponed the settlement after Mizuho Fukushima--leader of the Social Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan's junior coalition partner--hinted the SDP would leave the coalition if the Cabinet allowed Futenma's functions to be transferred to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture.
Appointing Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano to coordinate the issue, Hatoyama launched a joint government-ruling bloc study panel on the problem of U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture, presided over by Hirano. Yet how can the government and the DPJ reach an agreement with the SDP, whose security policy is incompatible with that of the DPJ?
Poor negotiation tactics
The government's handling of negotiations on the Futenma issue with local government heads in Okinawa Prefecture and Tokunoshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture stands out only because it is primitive and poor.
Anyone could have predicted the Futenma issue would run aground if the candidate who opposed the relocation of Futenma's functions to the city won the Nago mayoral election in January.
Yet when the relocation opponent was victorious, Hirano said, "We don't have to take [the election results] into consideration," inviting the distrust of residents of the prefecture.
Like Hatoyama's visit to Okinawa Prefecture, Hirano's visit to Kagoshima Prefecture started from the wrong point and was never corrected. Instead of persuading those concerned with the issue, the visit only strengthened their opposition.
Hatoyama also failed to build up a relationship of mutual trust with U.S. President Barack Obama. Unable to have an official diplomatic meeting with the U.S. president as Japanese prime minister, there is no way for Hatoyama to make progress in bilateral negotiations.
Meanwhile, it is not appropriate for ministers involved with the Futenma issue to have continuously made remarks on their own.
In addition, the Hatoyama administration did not allow bureaucrats who are knowledgeable about past facts and developments regarding Futenma to be involved in the negotiations, in the name of "politics led by politicians." This too made resolving the issue difficult.
Hatoyama himself should of course be held politically responsible for inviting such a serious situation, but Hirano also played a major role. How do they intend to take responsibility?
The government and ruling parties will be unable to brighten their prospects on the Futenma issue if they simply continue what they are doing now.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 15, 2010)