A handful of Democratic Party of Japan candidates in Sunday’s Upper House election appeared divided over the issue of relocating a U.S. Marine base from Ginowan to the Henoko district in Okinawa, a recent survey by a group of nongovernmental organizations shows.
The group sent questionnaires to candidates running in this weekend’s poll whose e-mail addresses were available, or 402 of 437. They gave the candidates four possible responses, including transferring the marines overseas or outside of the prefecture.
The group, including the Japan-U.S. Citizens for Okinawa Network and World Peace Now, also let the respondents write in their own responses.
Of 106 DPJ candidates, 20 responded, with half saying the marines at Futenma air station should be transferred abroad or outside Okinawa because the U.S. base has imposed a heavy burden on local people. Others said the base should be moved to Henoko under the terms of an agreement reached between the United States and the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
“It would be difficult to immediately transfer the Futenma facility outside Okinawa, considering the necessity to seek a relocation site and negotiations with the U.S. side,” a DPJ candidate noted. “To move it to Henoko is the first step, and then we should take measures to reduce the burden on Okinawa as a second step.”
Another DPJ candidate stressed the need to disperse the U.S. bases and military drills to reduce the burden on Okinawa and said the people of Japan should reach a consensus on sharing the burden.
Given the diverse responses, Shinsaku Nohira of Peace Boat, an NGO that participated in the survey, said the DPJ candidates are “wavering over the Futenma transfer to the Henoko area,” which is stipulated under the Japan-U.S. agreement.
“Even among the ruling party candidates, not a few of them do not fully accept the agreement, maybe because it was concluded over the heads of Okinawa and Japanese people as well as the DPJ members themselves,” Nohira said.
Hatoyama’s indecisiveness over Futenma led to his resignation last month as prime minister and DPJ leader, although the DPJ successfully ended the decades-old rule of the Liberal Democratic Party in last August’s general election.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said after replacing Hatoyama that his government will honor the bilateral agreement on the Futenma relocation.
Most of the 62 respondents from the Japanese Communist Party, out of 64 candidates, and the 10 of 14 Social Democratic Party candidates who responded, argued Tokyo should abandon the idea that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is the foundation of peace and prosperity in Asia and that the U.S. Marines should completely withdraw from Japan, the survey said.
“I expect the public’s (opposition to the relocation of Futenma within Okinawa) will be expressed in the upcoming election,” an SDP candidate said. “So Japan could renegotiate with the United States to review the current agreement.”
In contrast, many conservative candidates, mainly from the Liberal Democratic Party and Your Party, said a new base should be built in the Henoko area to take Futenma.
A Your Party candidate said Futenma should be moved to Henoko to deter possible threats and invasions, and that “all of the people in Japan have to express gratitude (for Okinawa’s tolerance), and we should continue seeking ways to transfer it to Guam in the future.”
Among the 84 candidates of the LDP, the main opposition force, 13 responded to the survey, while six of Your Party’s 44 candidates did so.
“People have paid less attention to the Futenma issue during the election campaign since the resignation of Mr. Hatoyama, although the situation in Okinawa has not changed,” Nohira said. “We, the NGOs, conducted the survey to refocus attention on the issue.”