Monday, December 07, 2009

Japan Prime Minister Denies Ever Saying 'Move Okinawa Air Base To Guam'

Japan Prime Minister Denies Ever Saying 'Move Okinawa Air Base To Guam'

Tokyo's Top Ministers Need To Get On The Same Page (And Stop Confusing The Issues!)

Written by Jeff Marchesseault, Guam News Factor Staff Writer
Sunday, 06 December 2009 20:19

GUAM - The day after international media reported that Japan Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa was preparing to fly to Guam to assess the island's capacity to absorb the functions of a U.S. air base in Okinawa, his prime minister is saying he issued no such instructions.

That according to UPI and Mainichi News.

UPI reports that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama explained that he remained under the impression that Washington still prefers to stand by a previously agreed plan to move the base to an area near Camp Schwab in Okinawa Prefecture.

Kitazawa: Shall We Expect Him Next Week Or Not?

Kitazawa was reportedly scheduled to arrive as early as this week. No word yet on whether his trip is still on, but UPI quotes the Defense Minister as being very clear about the reason behind his mission to Guam:

"I'd like to examine its capacity and geography as well as the conditions of the deployment of U.S. forces," he said. "Okinawa residents and the Social Democratic Party are demanding that we seek relocation out of the prefecture even if the process takes longer."

The bit about seeking relocation out of Okinawa even if the process takes longer seems consistent with Prime Minister Hatoyama's drawn out, indecisive reluctance to accept the terms of a 2006 bilateral accord with the U.S. The agreement requires the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan City to remote, coastal Camp Schwab in Nago City and the transfer of 8,600 Marines to Guam, where a $15 billion buildup is set to begin between late summer and early fall.

A Real World Wakeup

But Okinawans and others in Japan voted Hatoyama and his Democratic Party (along with coalition supporters like the Social Democrats) into power largely on the platform promise that a new government would fight to move Futenma out of Okinawa prefecture and preferably outside of Japan.

But given the cold, hard realities of international security imperatives, that kind of campaign rhetoric is looking more and more like a pipe dream. And that could put the Prime Minister in a pickle domestically, since he reportedly needs the parliamentary support of junior coalition partners like the Social Democrats to get legislation through the Diet.

But no matter how idealistic the Democrats may have thought they were being on the campaign trail, the reality is that the Okinawa-Guam transfer has been nearly 20 years in the making -- from about 15 years of negotiation to about four years of hard planning and prep work. The reality is that the U.S. military can't spend all that time coming up with a solution that does its best to balance competing interests like 'quality of life' and 'economic opportunity' with social and environmental impacts...and then decide nine months before heavy equipment starts clearing land that it's going to put everything on hold so it can scratch its head and figure out a quick alternative. It doesn't work that way. The U.S. has long since done its homework on the alternatives. And the Department of Defense, which leads security and dominates strategy in the region, says there aren't any.

So it's curious why Japan's Defense Minister would think any differently.

Who's On First?

This is not the first time the Prime Minister and his Defense Minister have appeared to be reading from different scripts. After U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates paid a visit to Tokyo in November and insisted that Nago was the only option, Kitazawa agreed that it might be best to stick to the plan. And Foreign Minister Okada said that Okinawa's Kadena Air Base might be an option, although that idea was dead on arrival when Okada visited Okinawa to proffer the notion and met stiff resistance in the prefecture that bears the heaviest concentration of U.S. bases in Japan.

Since winning office at the tail end of August, Hatoyama has appeared to be nervous, noncommittal, evasive, contradictory and defiant on the Futenma issue. Lately, it is presumed that he will delay the announcement of his alternative plan until January (the previous deadline was before the end of this year).

On the one hand, Hatoyama faces those fiercely opposed to any new bases in Okinawa. On the other, he faces an America that views the base relocation within Okinawa and the Okinawa-Guam troop transfer as a way to relieve pressure on Okinawa's crowded civilian city dwellars while re-fortifying the U.S. defensive posture in the Pacific. From one administration to the next, the U.S. has not wavered in its stated intention to move Futenma to Nago and transfer thousands of Marines and their families to Guam.

At some point soon, Japan's new government must decide whether it's going to insist that Futenma must be moved out of Okinawa or whether it's going to honor a 2006 bilateral accord that is designed to help keep Japan safe and protect the collective interests of that nation, ours and others. Japan must decide and decide quickly. At least then, the U.S. and Guam will know where Tokyo stands. Right now it's not exactly clear.

Read the UPI story, "Japan PM: Guam not being eyed for base", December 5, 2009.

Read the Guam News Factor story, "When Mr. Kitazawa Comes To Guam, Let's Speak With One Patriotic Voice", December 5, 2009.

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