Japan-U.S. ties need revamp: Hatoyama

Ministers mulling options over Nago base move

by Alex Martin and Jun Hongo

In light of next year marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Thursday it’s time the overall defense alliance is reviewed.

While stressing how the alliance is still a significant cornerstone in Japan’s foreign policy, Hatoyama said his administration plans to promote a “multilayered development” of the alliance in the medium to long term.

“The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty will be marking its 50-year milestone,” Hatoyama said on the second day of the Diet’s question-and-answer period, responding to questions posed in the Upper House by Yoshimasa Hayashi of the Liberal Democratic Party.

“I’d like to promote a comprehensive review (of the alliance) in the administration,” he said.

His remark comes at a relatively tense time in Japan-U.S. ties, with the Democratic Party of Japan reluctant to abide by a 2006 accord to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s aircraft operations to another area on Okinawa Island.

Pressed by the LDP to reveal his thoughts on the issue, Hatoyama responded that after more than a decade of wrangling, and considering the sentiment of the people in Okinawa, it is time for the government to actually move forward on the relocation.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa have begun “to seriously examine other possibilities” than relocating the base in Nago, northern Okinawa Island, Hatoyama said, stressing he has the final say.

In the afternoon in the Lower House, Japanese Communist Party President Kazuo Shii grilled Hatoyama, cautioning the DPJ not to establish a dependent relationship with the U.S. similar to that of the past LDP governments.

Touching on the DPJ’s failure to decide to relocate the Futenma base outside of Okinawa, the JCP chief urged the government to clarify its position.

Shii pointed out that following U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent visit to Tokyo, in which he pressed Japan to accept the 2006 agreement, Okada quickly reversed his stance and starting saying relocating Futenma outside of Okinawa is not a possibility.

“Overturning a political pledge after being scolded by the U.S. does not constitute an ‘equal’ partnership,” he said.

The Social Democratic Party, a minor partner in the ruling bloc, also touched on the relocation issue, saying Cabinet members have been wavering in their recent comments.

Hatoyama “must show leadership in moving the Futenma air base outside of Okinawa or outside of Japan to take the burden off the people of Okinawa,” SDP Secretary General Yasumasa Shigeno said.

Hatoyama replied that Japan’s security requires the deterrence provided by the U.S. forces, but his team is reviewing the relocation process with regard to how the people in Okinawa feel.

“I don’t believe at all that this is politics that is dependent on the U.S.,” he said.

The DPJ’s campaign platform also came under attack during the Diet session, with the LDP slamming the manifesto as full of unrealistic promises smelling of socialist ideals that jeopardize the nation’s future.

“It seems like many of the policies listed in the manifesto were created in a hurry and without careful consideration,” said Hayashi, vice chairman of the LDP’s policy research council.

Hayashi criticized the DPJ’s many policies — including the controversial cancellation of the Yamba Dam project in Gunma Prefecture — as being prematurely implemented in disregard of public sentiment or well-being.

Hatoyama retorted that the manifesto was a pledge to the public, and he intends to all of its policies in the next four years.

Stepping into the batter’s box, transport minister Seiji Maehara explained that taxpayer money should be used to improve areas such as education and social security, rather than be wasted on unnecessary public works projects.

“If it was really necessary, why hasn’t construction finished” after 43 years, Maehara said of the Yamba Dam, which had its groundbreaking ceremony in 1952.

“That’s what really puzzles me,” he said.