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Published:March 31st, 2010 22:12 EST
Japanese PM Hatoyama to "risk his life" over Futenma Resolution

Japanese PM Hatoyama to "risk his life" over Futenma Resolution

By Geoff Dean


The Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (The People`s New Party), the two minor coalition partners of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, don`t agree on much. The SDP tends to take liberal and pacifist positions while the PNP is more conservative and populist, as seen in recent proposals to drastically alter the Postal reform plan of former PM Junichiro Koizumi.

 So it must have seemed like a bad April Fool`s joke for the PM when Tomoko Abe, the SDP`s policy chief and Mikio Shimoji, the Diet Affairs Chief for the PNP, made a joint statement condemning the Hatoyama plan to move the Futenma Air Base to Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa and eventually to White Beach in Uruma, Okinawa after construction of artificial land connecting White Beach with an outlying island.

 Abe said that her opposition was mostly due to environmental damage at the proposed site, including destruction of coral reefs, while Shimoji opposed the project because it would "perpetuate the base`s presence" in Okinawa. Different reasoning, same result.

 PM Hatoyama has been having a hard time all around on the Futenma issue. In Okinawa, there have been growing protest movements and the city councils of Nago and Uruma have issued statements opposing any Futenma relocation to their area. The governor of Okinawa has repeatedly expressed his opposition and the mayor of Nago has announced that if the plan is pushed through, he will resign and lead protests, not only "verbal, but physical". And these leaders are all nominally Democratic Party supporters and even members.

 In America, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has presented the Hatoyama two-step plan to a very cool reaction from Secretary of State Clinton, who insisted that "we are going to continue to listen", but that the original plan (artificial land off Nago in Henoko Bay) is "preferable", basically the same position that the US has held all along. Furthermore, US officials have announced that no new plan will be accepted without local support, a cynical move since there is no local support for the original plan, either, but a shrewd one, in that garnering support for the new proposals in Nago and Uruma is an impossible mission.

 The PM has admitted in Diet grilling that he will be unable to meet his self-imposed deadline of the end of March for a concrete proposal to the US, raising questions as to whether the whole issue can truly be wrapped up by the end of May as promised (after an end of 2009 deadline was missed).

 Still, the PM boldly (and glibly?) announced that he would "risk his life" to achieve an acceptable outcome of the matter. I assume he is referring to resigning his post and not taking his life, but you never can be too sure.

 Still, it seems hard to see how he can satisfy a US that wants to stick with the original 2006 accord to keep the base in Okinawa and his Okinawan backers to whom he has promised to get the base out of the prefecture. And his coalition partners who want to protect the environment and/or "expel the barbarians" (the slogan of Meiji Restoration era ultra-patriots). And the Japanese people who want him to a) keep his promises, b)move more quickly, and c) not overly damage the relationship with the US. If his plan, the Nago and Uruma two-stage process is accepted, all of the above groups (is there anyone else left?) will be displeased.

 If the PM can satisfy everyone, he will go down in history as a PM of the ages. If not, he will probably just go down. Still, he found one approach that may be of some help. He has started to blame the Liberal Democratic Party, the oppostion, for letting this situation arise in the first place. "The dangers of Futenma should have been dealt with out delay, " the Prime Minister rebutted, and yet they were "let to fester for decades." Maybe that`s true. But I`m afraid Mr. Hatoyama won`t be given nearly that long to work his "magic".