Okada acknowledges U.S. ties, but cites need for talks
By Teri Weaver and Hana Kusumoto,
Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, October 9, 2009
TOKYO — Japan’s new foreign minister on Wednesday again stressed the need for renewed talks about a long-term plan to realign troops on Okinawa.
Katsuya Okada acknowledged the 2006 agreement that set in motion many moves involving security in Japan, including a relocation of a Marine air station on Okinawa.
But Okada, in his third week as Japan’s top diplomat, said he wants to lessen the burden Okinawa bears as the home to about half of the U.S. troops stationed in Japan. He’s put the issue on a list of topics to tackle in his first 100 days in office.
“The U.S.-Japanese alliance is extremely important,” Okada said at his first news conference as foreign minister at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
“However, Japan has its own national interest and the United States has its own national interest,” Okada said. “And in true alliance, the two will discuss and adjust in order to realize their national interests … in past Japanese diplomacy, the U.S. basically made decisions and Japan was more or less dragged along.”
The Democratic Party of Japan has pushed to reopen the realignment agreement since it seized power from the Liberal Democratic Party, which had controlled Japan for nearly five decades.
The proposed air station on Okinawa has long concerned locals, who now have more power thanks to the political change and to Diet representatives who have pledged to stop the construction. The new air station is linked to plans to move 8,000 Marines on Okinawa to Guam, a plan that the U.S. military says is still under way.
Following the elections, U.S. military officials stood firmly by the plan, saying that it could not be rewritten. Two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met with Okada and toned down the response, saying the United States was committed to listening to concerns.
A draft budget plan is due out from the Japanese government Oct. 15. The spending plan may give an indication of how much Japan wants to renegotiate.
On Wednesday, Okada also talked about the money Japan is sending to Afghanistan to counter Taliban efforts, including funds that pay for 50 percent of Afghan police salaries.
He also said Japan would continue to support talks between the U.S. and North Korea, so long as Japan, China, South Korea and Russia have a final say in negotiations with the reclusive country.
Okada said that, despite the talk about the realignment plan, he sees Japan continuing to rely on the United States for security in the region.
“We depend on the U.S.,” he said, adding that the relationship stretches beyond the military to economic, cultural and societal interests.
“We do not have any plans to go away from this pillar.”