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2009年11月23日 (月)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 21(IHT/Asahi: November 23,2009)
EDITORIAL: Agonizing over Futenma.

The Hatoyama administration is in agony over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture.

In the United States, the Obama administration contends the only realistic solution would be to move the base to Henoko in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, as agreed by the the Liberal Democratic Party-led government and the United States three years ago.

But many of the people in Okinawa are against creation of another lasting U.S. military facility in their prefecture, where 75 percent of all U.S. bases in Japan are located. The Okinawa people's hopes will be dashed if their plight does not change even after a change of government.

A way to resolve the dilemma involving two points must be found--the importance of the U.S. bases, which are the centerpiece of the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and the fact that throughout the postwar period, Okinawa has almost singlehandedly born the burden of the security arrangements.

That seems to be the public sentiment seen in a recent Asahi Shimbun poll that found a majority of the people polled support a review of the existing Japan-U.S. agreement. The matter, therefore, is all the more difficult.

It is commendable that in their meeting, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was straightforward with U.S. President Barack Obama and told him how difficult the situation was, and attempted to seek a solution. A review of the existing agreement should begin immediately.

However, the basic trust underlying the alliance should not be sacrificed in the process because the Japan-U.S. alliance is the supporting pillar of Japan's security. In this regard, we cannot help but question the behavior of the prime minister and his Cabinet ministers over the past few weeks.

The two nations should seek to resolve the issue by the end of the year. As Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said, the Japanese government needs to decide whether or not to include the relocation costs in the next fiscal year's budget. The government must not act as if it were going to base its decision on the outcome of the Nago mayoral election due next January.

Yet, although the prime minister said in his meeting with Obama that he intends to resolve the problem "as soon as possible," the following day, he said he would not necessarily rush a decision within the year. Moreover, it became apparent that his intentions regarding the status of the minister-level working group for reviewing the current agreement were different from what Obama had in mind.

It is not just the United States that has been bewildered by the mixed message from the Japanese government. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said he was considering a breakthrough plan based on the existing agreement, and yet Okada said he was looking for ways to merge the functions of Futenma with Okinawa's Kadena Air Base. In addition, the prime minister does not deny the possibility of moving Futenma air base outside of Okinawa, saying he himself intends to put together the final plan. There is no way the Okinawa people, together with the rest of the country, can fathom which way the government is looking.

The Japan-U.S. agreement is a multi-faceted package of interlinked changes that include reorganizing and streamlining the U.S. bases in Japan, transferring U.S. Marines from Japan to Guam, and the Japanese government paying much of the costs of that transfer.

What is important is for the prime minister to state clearly that he has no intention of changing this framework itself.

If, on top of that, he intends to look for a transfer location other than Henoko, then he must propose that clearly to the U.S. side.

Letting the working group discussions drag on without clarifying which general direction he would have the talks go is not only disingenuous toward the Untied States, but it will also raise false hopes among the Japanese public.

Hatoyama must recognize the power of his own message, and become a real force in resolving the issue.


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