Tokyo Notes

Fukushima—Fire Starter

A cabinet member defies the govt line and visits Okinawa, opening a barely closed wound.

In an extraordinary act of defiance, a Japanese cabinet minister visited Okinawa on Tuesday to ask the governor to work together to stop the relocation of a US base within the prefecture.

Mizuho Fukushima’s visit comes just two days after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama visited Okinawa to give a ‘heartfelt’apology for reneging on his promise to relocate the Futenma air base outside of the prefecture.

Fukushima leads the Social Democratic Party, a junior coalition party with 12 seats in the Diet overall but with five crucial ones in the finely balanced upper house. In going to Okinawa to meet Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, she showed just how far from agreement the coalition administration is on the contentious Futenma issue, effectively sticking her finger into a gaping political wound Hatoyama had only just tried to cover over with a four-year old band aid.

The SDP leader questioned why Hatoyama had struck a deal with the United Statesbefore gaining the agreement of local residents and the coalition government first. A good point, but not one you would expect to hear from a member of Hatoyama’s own cabinet. 

Fukushima was reportedly described as a fire starter by trade and industry minister Masayuki Naoshima, one of many cabinet ministers who must have been stunned by Fukushima’s visit.

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If Fukushima was going to try to influence policy on the issue from within the cabinet, this surely was not the way to go about it. She must now have brought into question the SDP’s very future in the coalition government.

The role of the SDP in reopening the Futenma relocation issue had already been heavily criticized in an editorial in Japan’s biggest daily, The Yomiuri Shimbun, on Monday, as the local press battered the prime minister for returning to square one on Futenma by agreeing with the United States on Saturday to effectively return to the 2006 bilateral agreement on relocation of the base. Editorials across the spectrum slammed Hatoyama for raising then dashing Okinawan hopes of moving the base elsewhere, while cooling relations with the US in the process.