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2009年12月16日 (水)

普天間移設 展望なき「越年」決定は誤りだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 16, 2009)
PM gets it wrong on Futenma
普天間移設 展望なき「越年」決定は誤りだ(12月16日付・読売社説)

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama may go down in history for derailing the reversion of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture to Japan. We cannot but hold such a strong feeling of foreboding over this matter.

The Hatoyama government on Tuesday officially announced a policy of postponing a decision on where to relocate the helicopter functions of the Futenma airfield until next year at the earliest. The three ruling parties--the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party--also decided to continue discussing possible new candidate relocation sites for the facility among themselves, eyeing the possibility of reviewing the 2006 deal between Tokyo and Washington regarding the Futenma relocation.

This decision puts party interests before national interests for the sake of maintaining the current three-party coalition. It also means that the Japanese side has unilaterally scrapped an agreement reached at Japan-U.S. summit talks in November that a speedy conclusion on the relocation issue would be made, running the risk of destroying the relationship of mutual trust Japan and the United States have built up over the years.


Move will hurt Japan-U.S. ties

As Washington has already responded negatively to Tokyo's new policy, future negotiations on the issue between the two countries look sure to sail into rough waters. Besides, the new policy will hinder the start of bilateral talks on deepening Japan-U.S. alliance toward the 50th anniversary of the revision of the Japan-U.S. security treaty next year. We also are concerned that the bilateral relationship as whole will become bogged down.

A relocation site for the airfield must be close to other marine corps bases so troops can be moved quickly. That is why relocating the base within the prefecture has always been a precondition for the reversion of the Futenma base to Japan since the 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement.

Reviewing this stipulation and proposing the transfer of Futenma's functions to another prefecture or overseas would void 13 years of collaboration by the two governments and even risk undoing the reversion agreement. Did the Hatoyama administration understand the grave significance of the Futenma issue before making its latest decision?

Of course, the prime minister bears the greatest responsibility for creating the current situation. Although he claimed that he himself would make the final decision on the issue, Hatoyama has continued to vacillate.

On different occasions, he said the United States, Okinawa Prefecture and the SDP were all important--comments intended to appease the respective parties he talked to. That resulted in heightened calls in Okinawa Prefecture and the SDP demanding the transfer of Futenma's functions to outside the prefecture, narrowing the prime minister's options.

Hatoyama also made different remarks on the Futenma problem almost every day, confusing those concerned with the issue. It is doubtful whether he has what it takes to be prime minister.


No realistic alternative

The problem is that no new perspective can be expected on the issue even though the government has put off deciding where to transfer the functions of the airfield until next year. There is no realistic candidate relocation site for the Futenma base outside the prefecture. It will be extremely difficult and will require a huge amount of time and effort to come up with a concrete relocation plan from scratch and obtain approval for it from the United States, Okinawa Prefecture and the local government of the new relocation site.

Nevertheless, Hatoyama expressed his intention to seek an option other than the current plan. This apparently contradicts his own government's policy to earmark expenses for the current plan in the fiscal 2010 budget.

It is certain that Hatoyama's remark will cause additional confusion. It is highly questionable whether the prime minister really wishes to alleviate the burdens on residents of Okinawa Prefecture linked to hosting U.S. military installations while at the same time firmly maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 16, 2009)
(2009年12月16日01時13分  読売新聞)


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