DPJ's Futenma Blues


Japan’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan saw a potential door close on one possible way out of the problems it’s having over the relocation of a US Marine base in Okinawa.

The DPJ is having a real headache deciding whether to follow through with a 2006 plan agreed between its predecessor and the United States to relocate the Futenma Air Station within the prefecture, or meet an election pledge to move the base out of the prefecture altogether.

Over the weekend, the incumbent mayor of the city eyed as the new home for the base-who was willing to accept the relocation-was defeated by Susumu Inamine, who opposes the plan. According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, DPJ headquarters had hoped the incumbent would prevail, so as to at least leave open the option of the move.

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Hatoyama could try to find alternative locations, and has given his government until the end of May to reach a decision. But as I’ve mentioned before, the US doesn’t appear in any mood to compromise.

I asked Japan analyst Tobias Harris for his take on the hard-line US response. He told me:

‘I think that the US government has greatly overreacted to the Hatoyama government. The Hatoyama government could have been better prepared with an alternative, but then again, I don’t think they had the information available to them in opposition to draw up an alternative.

‘The US government should have played it cool – like they’re doing now – and waited out the government. Why they were able to wait years for the LDP to get its act together but couldn’t wait a few months for what is Japan’s first truly democratic government to review the agreement and present a possible alternative is beyond me. It’s also beyond me why the US government was so surprised when the DPJ made clear.that it was serious in its complaints about the Futenma relocation plan.

‘Frankly, I think the Futenma debacle is more the product of an open-source intelligence failure on the part of the US government than a political mistake by the Hatoyama government.’

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