Tokyo Notes

Shattered Hopes

The decision on Futenma showed national security trumps the views of many Japanese.

The resignation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama may not have been unexpected, but the suddenness of the announcement Wednesday was a shock to the entire Japanese nation — supporters and opponents alike. But most shocked of all were the people of Okinawa and those who had remained hopeful even just a few days before judgement day that a solution to the Futenma issue could be found.

For them, though, the real judgement day was not the day when Hatoyama announced his resignation, but instead May 28 — the day when a new accord was signed by the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC).

For the many who remained hopeful in the last days before the signing and announcement of the new agreement, the move only brought despair and disappointment, particularly for residents of Nago City in Okinawa and Tokunoshima in Kagoshima. The two locations were specified in the agreement as the best candidates for the relocation of the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station (MCAS) facility and its training functions. Both prefectures had repeatedly rejected the requests   on the issue from the central government, and so to them the agreement underscored the idea that the government valued the bilateral relationship more than their demands or hopes.

And with the resignation of the country's leader these last hopes were shattered.

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The resignation was for many an acknowledgment from Hatoyama that he cannot fight for those  suffering from the US military presence in Japan, and his critics see in the decision cowardice from  a leader they believe has been weak and indecisive for abandoning his responsibilities to protect the interests and livelihoods of the people he governs.

In the end, national security considerations prevailed. The preamble of the SCC agreement highlighted the renewed recognition in  both governments that 'the US-Japan alliance remains indispensable not only to the defence of Japan, but also to the peace, security, and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region,' owing to'(r)ecent developments in the security environment of Northeast Asia'.

So, the suspected North Korean submarine attack changed the entire game and it looks as if a presumed single torpedo destroyed not only the security equilibrium of the region, but the hopes of these Japanese.

And still the game continues.

According to Kyodo News, the US Congress rejected the relocation bill on the US Marines in Okinawa as it stands, demanding a major cut in the budget, just a day before Hatoyama announced his resignation.

According to an internal document obtained by Kyodo, the US Senate Armed Services Committee reduced the outlay of the budget by 70 percent of the government-proposed level, citing the Okinawa Prefecture governor's refusal to the approve land reclamation plan for the proposed area in 'Camp Schwab Henoko-saki area and adjacent waters' (as specified in the SCC agreement).

Many of the disgruntled hopefuls see this development as outright pressure on the Japanese negotiators aimed at finalizing and following through with the new SCC agreement, a view strengthened by reports such as one by Kyodo that the US and Japanese governments are considering postponing the transfer of some 8,550 marines and their 9,000 dependants from Okinawa to Guam 'by three to five years from the originally scheduled 2014.'

As the article notes, both governments have agreed that the relocation of the marines and  dependents are 'dependent on tangible progress' on relocating the MCAS to another site in Okinawa and the delay could seriously affect the outcome of the replacement facility.

This would be another blow to those that believed in the Hatoyama administration, and the fact that these deals are not all one-sided — our government is playing an integral part – will further the sense that both sides are just playing with them.

Synonymous with what Japanese call 'kokumin fuzai no seiji' (politics without due consideration of the people), 'kokumin fuzai no gaikou' (diplomacy without due consideration of the people) has left many feeling shattered and also culpable for allowing the current administration into power. Yet the resignation of this administration's leader won't resolve these issues, just as a change of government won't either. The only thing that will is a dramatic change in US overseas basing policy that is able to address the difficult task of managing a sustainable alliance.