Japan to revisit base plan, SOFA
By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, September 11, 2009
CHATAN, Okinawa — Bowing to its two minority party partners in the ruling coalition, the Democratic Party of Japan announced late Wednesday that Japan’s new government will re-examine the 2006 bilateral agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan — specifically plans to build a new helicopter base in northeast Okinawa.
It also will seek a revision of the status of forces agreement between the two countries, party officials said.
Just a little more than a week after it won a decisive victory over the party that ran Japan for more than 50 years, the infant DPJ hit a speed bump in forming a new government.
It took three days of negotiations to reach an agreement with the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party on how to approach issues concerning the U.S. military.
The holdup became apparent Monday when the two minority coalition partners announced they wanted the new government to be more aggressive renegotiating changes in the bilateral agreement, particularly building a new air facility on Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the island’s urban center.
Details of the coalition agreement were not available Wednesday night.
In its campaign to unseat the Liberal Democratic Party in the recent lower house election, the DPJ downplayed its opposition to relocating the Marine base, instead focusing on domestic issues.
But after it took 308 of the 480 seat lower house, it was faced with demands from the two minor parties, who took another 10 lower house seats and hold the swing votes in Japan ’s upper house. Without their cooperation the DPJ — formed 11 years ago and never in power — faces the possibility of legislation being blocked in the upper house.
U.S. bases on Okinawa cover just under 20 percent of the land area of the main island and a bit less than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan . The two minority parties pushed for a strong statement concerning the Okinawa troop presence. The major issue, SDP party officials said Tuesday, was their party’s strong passivist stance regarding Japan ’s constitution.
The SDP wanted MCAS Futenma closed and replaced somewhere outside Okinawa . They also want to revise portions of the SOFA regarding U.S. servicemembers charged with major crimes.
During a press conference broadcast live following Wednesday’s announcement of the official forming of the coalition, Yukio Hatoyama, the prime minister in waiting, downplayed the difference between the three parties.
"We reconfirmed something what we have in our platform," he said. "I believe, therefore, that there is no problem."
But Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, said her party still opposes the Futenma relocation plan.
"While the collation government heads toward re-examining the project, we will squarely discuss the issue within the government," she said.
She is strongly supported by the four Okinawan representatives in the lower house, who are pushing to block the plan to build the new air facility on Camp Schwab .
U.S. officials have stated that the 2006 bilateral agreement is non-negotiable. They say the key to the agreement, which would result in major Marine commands and some 8,000 Marines and their families moving to Guam , is replacing MCAS Futenma.
In an effort to reassure U.S. officials that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty remains strong, Hatoyama spoke to President Barack Obama by phone last week, telling him the alliance remains the "foundation" of Japanese foreign policy.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.