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Published:February 18th, 2010 22:34 EST
Futenma Base

Latest Updates on Futenma Base Move (or lack thereof)

By Geoff Dean

 I don`t know if this issue of the Futenma Base move is a big deal in the States, but in Japan, it has been roiling politics from almost the inception of the Hatoyama Administration. For those who don`t know...

Futenma Base Move

 Prime Minister Hatoyama ran on, among other things, developing a more "equal" relationship with the US, deriding years and years of "subservient" Japanese foreign policy towards the US under the Liberal Democratic Party. This is included rewriting the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the legal situation of US servicemen and women in Japan (long considered too lenient by many Japanese observers), ending Japanese cooperation with Indian Ocean refueling of US warships involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and most significantly, moving the Futenma base out of the center of the bustling city of Ginowan in Okinawa, and preferably, out of Japan.

 The Democratic Party (Hatoyama`s party) candidates and officials on Okinawa were even more explicit. Futenma must a) be moved, b) not be moved to Henoko/Nago in northern Okinawa, and c) be relocated out of Okinawa altogether. Beyond that, coalition partners the Social Democrats ran on a policy of removing Futenma and other bases if possible from Japan completely.

 This policy, of course, ran against an agreement between the former Japanese administrations and the US. Some, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, took a strident tone, denying any possibility of renegotiation. This, not surprisingly, reinforced the perception that the relationship between the US and Japan is not "equal" and strengthened calls for Japan to kick the Marines out completely.

 The PM, caught between his own strong rhetoric and a desire not to damage US-Japan ties, dithered. Several months later, he still is doing so.

 In his latest comments to the Diet, the PM promised to resolve the issue by May, not to let this "damage strong US-Japan ties", and to respect the will of the Okinawan people. Unfortunately for him, the clear will of the Okinawan people is to get the base out of Okinawa (see the results of the recent Nago mayoral election where a base opponent was elected over an incumbent) and to do so without damaging US-Japan ties is near impossible. That`s why the previous promise to resolve the matter by the end of 2009 went out the window and many doubt the May date as well.

 Meanwhile, US officials have tried to sound more conciliatory, welcoming discussions of Plan B or C, while insisting, nonetheless, that the current plan to move the bases to Nago remains the only option.

 The coalition parties in the unruly Hatoyama Administration have come up with some ideas, many already discussed and shot down previously. Move the base to Kadena (this is also in Okinawa and the US had called it impractical). OK, move the base to Guam (Again, the US says this is too far away from Okinawa and inoperable). Move the base to Tinian Islands in the central Pacific (where? Americans are not good at geography, remember.) Move the base to Sasebo Naval Base in Nagasaki (this idea has more opposition from the Japanese side because a) it is still in Japan and b) Nagasaki and the US have some history, if you can recall). Move the base to Camp Fuji.....

 Wait a minute. Stop the presses (oops, we are online). This idea, being put forward by both coalition partner parties, has a unique advantage. It is the idea that I first suggested on the SOP (not bragging, of course!) Do the leaders of the Social Democrats read the SOP? I posed that question to the Social Democrats but as yet have gotten no response. Either way, I think this is the best way forward.

 The Japanese Self-Defense Force (there is no "army" in demilitarized Japan, although the distinction is largely semantic) base is largely idle and right next to Camp Fuji US Marine Base. Why not combine them and move Futenma`s personnel there?

 Interestingly, a secret US-Japanese pact was revealed today in the Japan Times that declared already that the US had the first right of use of the self-defense force base at Fuji 270 days of the year. Why not 365? Do the self-defense forces actually train anyway? What for?

 If any Japanese politicians are reading this, please push forward with the Camp Fuji idea. I don`t want US-Japanese relations to get any worse. My wife is Japanese and I have enough problems as it is (not with my wife, of course!) And no feel no need to give me any credit....