Tokyo Notes

Too Little, Too Late

Hatoyama’s first visit to Okinawa as prime minister seems like a case of too little, too late.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s trip to Okinawa on Tuesday was more than a little tardy given the eight months of confusion over the issue of the Futenma air base relocation since his Democratic Party of Japan took power. Meanwhile, the solution the prime minister finally has in mind for the relocation problem falls well short of his election campaign promise to at least move the base out of the prefecture.

In his search for a solution since winning last year’s election, you would have expected Hatoyama to have already spent at least some time in Okinawa before this week. Perhaps he once hoped he might delay his return to Okinawa until he genuinely had a master plan that would satisfy all concerned. But a rapturous welcome for a political hero was not awaiting the embattled premier this week in Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

Instead, amid protesting local people, Hatoyama had to suffer the ignominy of asking for the prefecture’s understanding and acceptance of what is essentially little more than a revised version of the original plan agreed by Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and the United States in 2006.

‘In terms of deterrence, I have determined that transferring all of the functions at Futenma outside the prefecture or abroad is difficult,’ Hatoyama told reporters, after his meeting with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, according to Kyodo News.

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The plan also looks to locate some of the helicopter functions of the base on Tokunoshima island in the next prefecture, although local authorities there have also rejected the idea.

Not surprisingly, local media all rounded on Hatoyama in their editorials Wednesday, expressing amazement that it had taken the prime minister so long to reach such a conclusion. In this vein, the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun slammed Hatoyama for wasting so much time in merely turning full circle back to the original plan. Even the runway on pillars was not a new idea it said. If the DPJ was trying to introduce leadership by politicians, this was an example of just how bad political leadership could be, it concluded.

The more centrist Mainichi said Hatoyama had finally waved the ‘white flag’ when it came to moving the base outside the prefecture. On his tour of apology, the prime minister had shown that his December promise not to relocate the base in Nago’s Henoko Bay had the significance of a scrap of waste paper. But, the Mainichi warned, his promise to stake his career on meeting his end-of-May deadline was one promise he had to keep.

At least Hatoyama has now acknowledged what his plan is. He now has three and a half weeks left to get everyone else to agree to it.