FOCUS: Ozawa's power, Hatoyama's ulterior motives lie behind Futemma delay
December 05 2009 16:27
TOKYO, Dec. 5 KYODO
Behind Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's indecisiveness on the future of a U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture seems to be the firm determination of his former boss, Ichiro Ozawa, to keep a grip on parliament and even a bigger ulterior motive of the two politicians.
Hatoyama, head of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, has put on hold a decision on where to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station, as the leader of a junior partner in the coalition has threatened to leave it if the DPJ goes ahead and moves the base within the prefecture under the existing Japan-U.S. deal.
The threat by Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima came as Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa were seeking to solve the relocation issue by the end of this year.
Hatoyama is putting more weight on maintaining power in parliament over the already soured relationship with Washington, which has pressed Japan to resolve it quickly and move the Futemma base in line with the accord.
The DPJ, which won a landslide victory in the August election for the House of Representatives, had to form a coalition with two small partners despite differences over security and foreign policies, as it needs their cooperation in the House of Councillors.
Speculation is now growing that a decision on the U.S. base issue will not be made until after next year's upper house election, in which the DPJ is widely expected to secure a majority and it can decisively break off what appears to be an awkward coalition.
Political observers say that behind the delay is DPJ Secretary General Ozawa who is widely believed to have wielded his influence behind the scenes over the Hatoyama government since its launch in mid-September.
According to sources close to Ozawa, he has pressured the prime minister's office and Defense Minister Kitazawa to deal with the relocation issue in a way that would not result in the collapse of the coalition.
At the upper house, the DPJ currently holds less than a majority and needs to join hands with the two parties -- the SDP and the People's New Party -- to ensure smooth passage of legislation.
Eiken Itagaki, an independent political analyst who is well-versed in DPJ politics, said that Ozawa warned that the government needs to avoid what the previous Liberal Democratic Party-led government had gone through in a divided parliament.
But there is also a view among some pundits that Hatoyama simply used the coalition partner's threat as a reason for delaying a decision, as he himself hopes to move not just the Futemma air station but also the entire U.S. military facility outside Okinawa or even outside the country and wanted to take time to find a better solution.
Since the DPJ was in the opposition camp, Hatoyama has repeatedly made comments to that effect.
''I truly wonder if it is appropriate that a military of another country will continue to station in this country forever,'' he said a few weeks after taking office in mid-September.
Kazuhiro Asano, professor in politics at Sapporo University, said should the DPJ kick the SDP out of the coalition after the election, ''I don't think Prime Minister Hatoyama will decide to move the Futemma facility to Henoko.''
Under the 2006 deal, Tokyo and Washington agreed to transfer the Futemma air station, which currently sits in the center of a residential area in the city of Ginowan, to the coastal area of the Henoko district in Nago, another Okinawa city, by 2014.
Hatoyama has indicated that he wants to wait and see the results of the Nago city mayoral election scheduled for January to determine the will of local voters before making any decision on the relocation.
''He is looking for evidence and reasons that would help him decide to move the base outside the prefecture,'' Asano of Sapporo University said.
Ozawa, a former DPJ chief, is also against hosting another country's military in Japan and once advocated for the stationing of a United Nations-sponsored military for the defense of the country.
Itagaki said both Ozawa and Hatoyama are truly seeking a foreign policy stance that depends less on the United States and more on close relationships with such other countries as China and Russia, as promised in the party's campaign pledges.
Ozawa has once expressed the view that the role of the U.S. military in Japan should be trimmed down, saying the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka would be ''enough for the U.S. presence in the Far East.''
At the bottom of it, the foreign policy that Ozawa and Hatoyama are pursuing over a long term is not so different from that of Fukushima, chief of the pacifist, leftist SDP, the analyst said, suggesting that the DPJ may end up keeping the party in the coalition even after the upper house election.
Recently floated ideas include transferring the Futemma facility to the U.S. territory of Guam, a Japanese coastal airport or a remote island, according to several government sources.