Fukushima fired from Cabinet over Futenma

Ouster follows accord to move U.S. Marines air base to Henoko

by Masami Ito and Alex Martin

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday booted consumer affairs minister Mizuho Fukushima out of his Cabinet after she opposed a bilateral agreement between Japan and the United States to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa.

Fukushima said the Social Democratic Party, which she heads, will discuss whether to quit the ruling bloc in an executive meeting Sunday. Its departure would deal another blow to Hatoyama’s struggling Democratic Party of Japan ahead of the July Upper House election.

Hatoyama told reporters Friday evening, “We will continue to try our best to obtain Okinawans’ understanding” and unveil specifics of the base relocation.

While Hatoyama expressed his disappointment for having to dismiss Fukushima, he added that he intended to continue the coalition partnership with the SDP and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party).

He also said he would be willing to include another SDP member in the Cabinet if the party so desired.

“I had to dismiss Minister Fukushima because I had the responsibility to stick to today’s Japan-U.S. agreement when considering Japan’s security and the Japanese people’s safety,” Hatoyama said.

He said his government looked into about 40 possible relocation sites in and out of Okinawa but they were crossed off due to operational reasons of the U.S. Marine Corps. He also apologized to the people of Okinawa for not being able to follow through with his promise to move Futenma out of the prefecture.

“Having reached the conclusion that it was impossible to move Futenma out of the prefecture or out of the country, I had to consider Okinawa’s Henoko area,” Hatoyama said. “I apologize from my heart for not being able to keep my promise, and . . . for ending up hurting the people of Okinawa.”

Fukushima had insisted the government move the U.S. base out of Okinawa to lighten the prefecture’s burden.

“Dismissing me from the Cabinet is tantamount to cutting off ties with Okinawa and betraying the public,” she told reporters after her ouster.

Japan and the U.S. released a joint statement Friday on the contentious relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko, basically in line with a 2006 bilateral agreement, triggering strong anger and disappointment among locals.

After the government spent months reviewing the 2006 accord as well as holding discussions with U.S. officials, Hatoyama abandoned his plan to move Futenma out of Okinawa and agreed to ensure the environmental impact assessment procedures and construction of the replacement facility would be “completed without significant delay.”

The government held an extraordinary Cabinet meeting Friday evening to approve the Futenma decision. Fukushima refused to endorse it.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told reporters the government “has no choice but to ask the Okinawan people to continue shouldering the burden” of the Futenma base, but said the state would “wholeheartedly” continue to seek their acceptance.