Despite heavy U.S. pressure, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama appears to have given up on resolving the controversial relocation of a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa before year’s end and is now floating Guam as an option.
“I think it is necessary to consider whether moving the whole facility to Guam would be appropriate from the viewpoint of deterrence and the U.S.,” Hatoyama said. “The people on Guam are counting on it.”
But whether or not the U.S. is also hoping to move the whole base to Guam and whether moving the marines there would still give them and remaining U.S. military assets in Okinawa adequate deterrence capability “is a different issue,” he said.
Hatoyama has been caught in the middle between the U.S. and the Social Democratic Party over relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to a less-populated part of Okinawa.
The U.S. has been demanding that Japan stick to the 2006 agreement between Washington and Tokyo to relocate Futenma’s aircraft operations to a new airstrip to be built on the coast at Camp Schwab in Henoko in the northern part of Okinawa Island — an accord signed by the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party. During the August Lower House election campaign, however, Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan called for moving the base out of the prefecture, or even out of Japan.
Mizuho Fukushima, the head of the SDP, hinted Thursday her party might leave the ruling coalition if Hatoyama agrees with the move to Henoko. The new government would lose its majority in the Upper House were she to make good on the threat.
For now at least, the prime minister appears to favor preserving the ruling coalition.
“As I have mentioned before, I do take the Japan-U.S. agreement seriously, but I am wondering if Henoko is our only choice,” Hatoyama said. “I would like to resolve the issue as soon as possible, but with the new SDP problem, I have asked (the foreign and defense ministers) to actively look into” a new location.
Last month, the SDP submitted a proposal suggesting the government consider Guam and the remote Iwoto (formerly known as Iwojima) as relocation sites. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa is set to visit the bases on Guam next week.
“As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I plan to get a thorough look” at Guam, Kitazawa said.
But the defense minister also stressed the importance of ties with the U.S. “It is necessary to proceed with the discussions while making sure that there is no negative impact on the relationship.”
U.S. Ambassador John Roos, speaking at an event organized by Japan Institute of International Affairs, in Tokyo, stressed that bilateral ties are as strong as ever.
The ambassador, however, urged the relocation issue be resolved quickly and that next year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, attention should be turned to broader topics.
“I do think it is important . . . that we resolve the current issues expeditiously,” Roos said. “It is the United States’ full hope and expectation that we will continue to work together to a resolution because I do believe that next year, it will be critically important to focus on some of the broader alliance issues that we need to focus on for the next 50 years.”