No decision on Futenma this year
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's delayed decision on where to relocate a U.S. military base has become a dilemma over whether to anger Japan's most important ally or risk losing a key ruling coalition partner.
For now, the Cabinet appears set to delay a decision on moving the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now in densely populated Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, until next year.
Pressed by reporters Thursday on the Futenma issue, Hatoyama said, "None of us said we should decide by the year-end."
Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, raised the stakes Thursday when she said she will not rule out the possibility of taking her party out of the coalition if the government decides to relocate the Futenma airfield to Nago, northern Okinawa Prefecture, as initially planned.
"If the Cabinet decides to build a base along the coastline of (Nago's) Henoko district, I have to make a grave decision for the SDP and myself," Fukushima told a meeting of party executives.
Hatoyama later told reporters that the government "has to take (Fukushima's remark) seriously." He had earlier said his efforts to maintain the coalition government remains unchanged.
During a speech Wednesday, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said, "Breaking the three-party coalition Cabinet would throw the political scene into turmoil."
He added that a delay in deciding where to relocate the Futenma air station would not lead to "extreme" unease in Japan-U.S. relations.
Washington has demanded that Japan follow a 2006 agreement to relocate the Futenma airfield to Nago.
The SDP and the other junior coalition partner, the People's New Party, are opposed to any relocation decision this month. They want more deliberations on the issue.
During the campaign for the Aug. 30 Lower House election, the DPJ told voters it would try to relocate the Futenma airfield out of the prefecture or out of Japan.
Following the DPJ's victory in that election, residents in Okinawa Prefecture have heightened their demands that the air station be moved outside the prefecture.
The central government plans to allocate money in the fiscal 2010 budget for expenses related to the relocation to Nago. Tokyo wants to show Washington that Japan is not repealing the May 2006 bilateral accord on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, which includes the Futenma relocation to Nago and the transfer of thousands of Marines from Okinawa Prefecture to Guam.
Although Fukushima's tough line delivered Thursday was seen as an attempt to maintain party unity and ensure her re-election as SDP chief today, the loss of the SDP would deprive the ruling coalition of a majority in the Upper House.
The SDP's Okinawa prefectural chapter, frustrated at Fukushima's somewhat vague stance on U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, had planned to field Lower House member Kantoku Teruya. But Teruya was not expected to run in the party election following Fukushima's remark Thursday.
Since its days in opposition, the SDP has called for the Futenma airfield to be moved outside of Okinawa or Japan.
Cabinet ministers involved in the Futenma issue and DPJ leaders have been discussing the matter since late November. DPJ leaders are apparently concerned that harming the unity of the coalition by hastily deciding on the Futenma problem would make it difficult for the party to steer the Diet's ordinary session that starts in January.
"The current has totally changed," one of the Cabinet ministers said.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Kitazawa held long talks with Hatoyama and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano at the Prime Minister's Official Residence.
In another meeting of Cabinet ministers, everybody--with the exception of Okada--agreed that resolving the issue by the end of this year would be difficult.
(IHT/Asahi: December 4,2009)