Saturday, January 30, 2010

Japan may shelve US base relocation deal

Japan may shelve US base relocation deal

By Tomoko Hosaka
4:00 AM Tuesday Jan 26, 2010

Japan's Prime Minister said yesterday that he might break a key military deal with Washington on relocating United States troops, after a local election in Okinawa showed residents oppose any new Marine base in their region.

Residents of Nago elected a mayor who is staunchly against moving a base there from a larger city nearby - plans which Washington considers fundamental to its troop realignment in the region.

An agreement on the relocation was made under the previous Government, which lost power last year.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said the results of Sunday's election reflected the will of the people, and Japan would completely re-examine its accord with the US. "The country will start from scratch on this issue and take responsibility to reach a conclusion by the end of May," he told reporters.

His Government has repeatedly put off making a decision, risking a rift with the US, its main military ally, in the face of security concerns such as North Korea's nuclear programme and China's rising strength.

Nago chose challenger Susumu Inamine - who campaigned against any expansion of US military presence in the area - over incumbent Yoshikazu Shimabukuro.

Inamine won with 52.3 per cent of the vote, according to the city's election office.

The city's mayor has little say in national policy, but with Japanese parliamentary elections coming midyear, the results quickly reverberated throughout the country.

"It wasn't just Shimabukuro that was defeated in the election. The biggest loser was Japan's postwar military base strategy," the national Asahi daily said in a front-page editorial yesterday.

Japan signed a deal with the US four years ago that was part of a broader realignment of American troops.

A key part of the plan was relocating the Futenma base to the smaller city of Nago, where the latest election was held. The issue sparked intense protests and dominated debate between the two mayoral candidates. Defeated mayor Shimabukuro supported the base for the jobs and investment it would bring.

The Obama Administration has already expressed frustrations with Tokyo's delays in finalising the relocation of the Futenma base - now in the Okinawa city of Ginowan - saying it is delaying a sweeping realignment plan for US military in the region.

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