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Japan-US ties in Question (Page 2 of 2)

If you need an example, look at who has been appointed Director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs under Barack Obama. In his previous post as US Consul on Okinawa, Kevin Maher was ‘well known for his arrogance and rudeness toward the Okinawan people,’ recalls Lummis. He cites an incident in 2008 where Maher shouted ‘baka yaro’ (you idiots) at a group of demonstrators. ‘This from a career diplomat.’

Okinawans have more reason than most to be sceptical of big power plans. As a new Japanese government probe will undoubtedly prove, even Japan’s so-called three nonnuclear principles–committing the country to never produce, possess or allow the entry of nuclear weapons–were not safe from the political calculations needed to maintain the facade of pacifism.

The no-nuke rule, outlined by Prime Minister Sato Eisaku in 1967 and formally adopted by the Diet in 1971, was undermined by a backroom deal struck between Washington and Tokyo that was signed by Sato and President Richard Nixon in 1969. Its origins go back at least four years to a memo signed at the US Embassy in Tokyo in July 1965.

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After decades of rumours, that secret pact–allowing nuclear-armed U.S. ships and aircraft to traffic over and through Okinawa and other parts of the country–was confirmed by a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry bureaucrat last summer.

The deal, agreed during the fraught negotiations to rewrite the security treaty in 1960 is said to have depended on a ‘misinterpretation.’ Tokyo claimed that it believed it would receive prior consultation before any nuclear-armed dockings or flyovers; Washington had no such understanding.

When the LDP discovered otherwise, it kept quiet—‘instead of publicly acknowledging a change in position,’ the leading, liberal-leaning Asahi Shimbun newspaper said last year. LDP politicians repeatedly denied the deal, and Sato even won the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize for his ‘opposition to any plans for a Japanese nuclear-weapons program.’ Today, the official bureaucratic line is still that the pact doesn’t exist.

Maher, therefore, has his work cut out for him on his old stomping ground. The prospect of having to live beside a huge new offshore US airbase has alarmed the citizens of Nago, the nearest small city and local polls show opposition running at over well over 70 percent. In January, voters opted for anti-base candidate Susumu Inamine against Yoshikazu Shimabukuro–hardly surprising since most Nago civilians believe the two governments ignored the outcome of a 1997 referendum against the relocation.

Inamine has given heft to a campaign largely shouldered until now by pensioners and students, who have camped for years in Heneko, the small village that will host the US facility. The election outcome has added an extra layer of complexity to an already vexing problem, and to the frustrations of US commanders. ‘National security policy cannot be made in towns and villages,’ Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, commander of Marine forces in the Pacific, said in January.

As the deadline for a decision nears, many analysts believe Hatoyama will give way to US demands and face down the Okinawans–probably the least worst political option. But many have been surprised by his stubbornness so far. Whatever the final outcome of the dispute, says veteran Japan watcher Gavan McCormack in an essay in Japan Focus, ‘the Hatoyama government has so far withstood the most sustained barrage of US pressure, intimidation, insult, ultimatum and threat, and decided, at least for the present, to say: “No.”’

Nanako Otani assisted with this article.

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