April 16th, 2010 10:05 EST
The Last Days of PM Hatoyama?
People had high hopes about the Hatoyama Administration. After decade after decade of one-party democracy, the endless rule of the Liberal Democratic Party came to an end. The new PM looked different (much younger), sounded different (we could understand his policy speeches), and talked about different things (ending government corruption, opening up to the media, making a more equal relationship with the US, etc.). Even the first lady, a former starlet of the all-female Takarazuka acting troupe, was unlike anything we had ever seen in Japan before. His popularity hit 70% and his early moves were widely praised.
And then there was a beast called Futenma.
The PM declared that the Futenma relocation issue would be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Japan would reopen negotiations with the states, offer new alternatives, reduce the burden on Okinawa, while maintaining the "security umbrella" and the vital US-Japan relationship.
We heard of plans to move Futenma base to northern Okinawa, to Saipan, to White Beach in central Okinawa, to Tinian island, to Guam, to Osaka International Airport, to Nagasaki, to various island of the Kagoshima and Okinawa chains. At least, it was a good introduction to some obscure geography. The Administration promised to come up with a clear proposal by the end of 2009. When that did not happen, it became May 2010. The PM promised a "conclusion" to the issue by the end of May and therefore called for a concrete proposal by mid-March.
It is now mid-April and US Ambassador John Roos claims that while he has heard various "ideas", he is still waiting for a concrete proposal. Meanwhile, the government lurches from idea to idea, getting nowhere.
About a week ago, we, the people, were informed, informally, that the basic plan was to move the base, as a first stage to an onland site in northern Okinawa in an expansion of Camp Schwab in Nago, and then eventually to artificial land to be built off White Beach in Uruma, also in Okinawa. The locals in both locales were not amused and began protests to keep Futenma from coming there.
Soon, the government announced that a) it had never said that and b)the White Beach option was gone.
Last weekend, coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party, sent a fact finding mission to Saipan and Tinian, to judge local reaction, despite claims from the ruling party that this option was no longer under consideration. For its part, the other minor coalition party, Kokumin Shinto, declared that the government should dedicate itself to getting the entire base moved to Guam, a move which the US has already repeatedly declared "unfeasible."
The PM, nonetheless, keeps declaring the end of May as his self-imposed deadline, even declaring that he was "risking his life" on the conclusion. This may well turn out to be the "Read My Lips, No New Taxes" comment for the PM as some of his fellow party members have begun to hint that a resolution is unachievable in that time frame and that the Prime Minister may have to resign if he fails to get it done. The SDP (of fact finding fame) has already declared that a May resolution is "impossible."
Worst of all, when Hatoyama attended the security summit, he was given only 10 minutes with President Obama, during a dinner. Having vowed to go to the summit and clear the air with "Barack", he came back totally humiliated. The Japanese press immediately picked up on "the 10 minute snub" and how the Premier of China totally outshone and outperformed Japan again. When asked to comment on their discussions, a visibly irritated Hatoyama declined, leading to speculation that they merely exchanged greetings and little else.
On top of all that, Al Kamen in the Washington Post, referred to the PM as "the biggest loser of the summit" who got "no bilat(eral meeting)" and suffered through the humiliation of a "consolation prize" chat between "dinner and dessert". Fair or not, this was headline news in Japan, where people increasingly think that the PM is embarrassing the country.
I hate to say it but I feel it is just a matter of time and not all that much time before the Hatoyama Administration is no more. When a PM of Japan goes to the US and can`t get even a brief face-to-face, it is a major downdressing in a country that takes such losses of face extremely seriously. When a PM says he will "risk his life" to get something and then fails to do so, I don`t see how he can survive.
One government spokesperson has tried to declare that starting negotiations by the end of May will equal a "conclusion" of the site selection process and thus fulfill the PM`s pledge. Sorry but no amount of mental and linguistic gymnastics is going to save the PM on this one. Read my lips!