Thursday, November 19, 2009

Okinawa, Iwo Jima Or Guam? Japan Premier Tells Obama 'Just Trust Me' On Troop Transfer

Okinawa, Iwo Jima Or Guam? Japan Premier Tells Obama 'Just Trust Me' On Troop Transfer

Japan Still Shuffling For Answers While Guam Buildup Plans March Ahead

Friday, 20 November 2009 08:19
By Jeff Marchesseault

GUAM - Colorful comments from Japan's national leadership this week are raising fresh questions about whether the bulldozers will be able to start clearing ground for military installation expansion in time to meet deadlines on Guam.

According to the AFP, a junior partner in Japan's coalition government said an American airbase should be moved off southern Okinawa to a more remote islet or to Guam.

Doves Take The Floor

The junior partners are the pacifist Social Democrats. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) need the Social Dems' support to ease legislation through parliament, so they definitely have his ear. The AFP reports the pacifists have long opposed the heavy US military presence in Okinawa.

Other than Guam, the Social Democrats are also suggesting, as an alternative to Okinawa, a small Japanese island now called Iwo To. Iwo To is formerly known as Iwo Jima, site of bloody battles between American and Imperial Japanese forces during World War II.

The Premier Asks For Trust...How Far Can We Throw Him?

Adding a twist of late-night-movie melodrama, Hatoyama revealed Thursday that he had told President Obama to "trust me" during the American leader's summit visit to Tokyo last week, and "that there are strong feelings" in Okinawa regarding the 2006 agreement on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. That according to The Japan Times.

Eight thousand U.S. Marines, their families and their tons of war machines are scheduled to move from Okinawa to Guam by 2014. Getting ready for their resettlement will take time, money and cooperation. That's why construction is slated to start as early as late next sumer. But without the consensus of Japan's government, the Guam buildup can't move forward.

On the campaign trail that led to their end-of-August victory this year, the DPJ had vowed to fight the transfer of Marines within Okinawa because of the noise and danger associated with their presence among civilians. But since coming to power, the DPJ government has been forced to weigh Japan's U.S.-led security interests against the hopes of outspoken voters and politicians who want Marines out of Okinawa.

Japan Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada's proposal to move Futenma's operations to the U.S.'s Kadena Air Base, also in Okinawa, was shot down by local officials. On Wednesday, The Japan Times reported that Okada fell between a rock and a hard place during his visit to Okinawa on Monday:

"The Kadena plan has an advantage in that it would take less time (for the Futenma relocation than the existing plan) because the base already has runways. But the people in Okinawa, especially those close to (Kadena), are strongly opposed," he said. "I have to walk on an extremely narrow path."

As Japan gropes for traction on this slippery issue, today the federal government has already released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the Guam buildup in order to give local leaders and the public an opportunity to review and comment on the plan.

The DEIS has been published online; hard copies will be available in various public locations on Saturday. So far it looks like buildup plans on Guam are moving forward. Japan hopes to answer an anxious Department of Defense by the end of the year or January with an alternative relocation plan for Marines now in Okinawa. But the U.S. has not changed its position on the 2006 bilateral accord to move the air station from crowded Futenma to remote Camp Schwab in Nago -- an agreement that keeps most of the Marines in Okinawa while siphoning off 8,000 and their dependents to Guam.

Referring to his conversation with Obama, Hatoyama told The Japan Times, "...we want to draw a quick conclusion as fast as possible. So, (I told him) 'trust me.'"

Obama reportedly responded vaguely that he has faith in the Japanese government. Subtext: this train is moving, so climb aboard or get off the tracks!

Read the AFP story, "Hatoyama to Obama on protracted Futenma base relocation: Just trust me", November 20, 2009.

Read The Japan Times story, "Hatoyama to Obama on protracted Futenma base relocation: Just trust me", November 20, 2009.

Read The Japan Times story, "Okada's Futenma-Kadena merger gambit fizzles", November 18, 2009.

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