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2009年11月18日 (水)

普天間作業部会 年内決着で対日不信を解け

Restore U.S trust by settling relocation issue
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 18, 2009)
普天間作業部会 年内決着で対日不信を解け(11月18日付・読売社説)

If Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama continues putting off a final decision on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, it will only amplify U.S. distrust of the Japanese leader, pushing the Japan-U.S. relationship to the brink of crisis. It is vital to resolve the issue by the end of this year.

The Japan-U.S. ministerial-level working group started discussing the relocation issue Tuesday. The two parties reaffirmed that they would expeditiously reach a conclusion, without specifying a time frame.

While the Japanese side indicated its intention to focus on reviewing the current plan, including the process of drawing it up, the United States reiterated its position that the current plan is the only feasible option.

The Hatoyama administration has spent a long time reviewing the relocation issue. Given this, is it truly necessary to start over again? As agreed upon in the recent Japan-U.S. summit talks in Tokyo, we believe the two countries should make expeditiously reaching a conclusion a top priority.

What cannot be overlooked is that Hatoyama continues making statements that can be interpreted as reversing the agreement. We find this highly regrettable.


Role of current plan questioned

The prime minister stressed that the current relocation plan is not a premise for discussions at the high-level working group. He even suggested that the discussions start from scratch, saying that there was absolutely no prerequisite. This logic is hard to understand.

U.S. President Barack Obama stressed in the summit talks that the working group should adhere to the basic agreement. In a joint press conference with the prime minister, the president also said that the working group would be focused on implementing the 2006 Japan.-U.S. accord to relocate the marine base from Ginowan to Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture. The prime minister did not object to this statement.

It is no wonder that the president views the current relocation plan as the premise for the high-level working group. If a rift opens between the Japanese and U.S. leaders, it may seriously damage Japan's national interests.

Furthermore, if the negotiation starts from scratch, it would be like turning the clock to 1996, when Japan and the United States agreed on the return of the Futenma Air Station. In that case, the return of the airfield will highly likely be delayed by more than a decade and decisively damage the Japan-U.S. relationship.


Time of the essence

As for the timing of an expeditious conclusion, Hatoyama said that he might decide which direction to take in line with the outcome of the Nago mayoral election scheduled for January.

However, the prime minister said last month, "I didn't mean that [the decision would be made] after the mayoral race." As such, Hatoyama's remarks have been inconsistent.

In the first place, the prime minister, as the one who takes charge of national security, should avoid leaving such a key issue concerning the fundamentals of the Japan-U.S. alliance to the result of a mayoral election.

Some in Okinawa Prefecture are also critical of the prime minister's policymaking style, saying that it is "unreasonable" to put the responsibility for making a key diplomatic decision on local governments.

If the prime minister wishes to respect the feelings of people in Okinawa, he has to sincerely listen to these voices, too.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa called for settling the issue by the end of the year from the viewpoint of appropriating necessary funds in the fiscal 2010 budget. Their opinions are quite right, and the prime minister should respect the views of the relevant ministers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 18, 2009)
(2009年11月18日01時02分  読売新聞)


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