Japan pressed on Futenma

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki to the State Department on Monday for an unscheduled meeting. She reportedly called for Japan to promptly implement the 2006 bilateral accord to move the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in the central part of Okinawa Island to Henoko in the island’s north.

Ms. Clinton’s unusual move is a clear indication of U.S. frustration with the Hatoyama administration’s decision to postpone until some time next year a resolution of the Futenma issue and to seek additional candidate sites for the relocation.

It is clear that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s understanding following his conversation with Ms. Clinton last week in Copenhagen — that he believed she basically understood the circumstances he explained to her — was wrong.

As Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said after the meeting between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Fujisaki, Japan “must take the greatest care” and “cope with the matter in a solid manner.” To prevent a delayed settlement from jeopardizing overall relations between Japan and the U.S., it is imperative that Japan come up with concrete ideas as soon as possible.

Mr. Hatoyama expressed hope of finding a relocation site other than Henoko and having the Futenma function transferred there. Although he ordered Mr. Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa to seek candidate sites, Mr. Hatoyama should invest greater effort in searching for potential sites himself.

If he is serious about finding a new site, he should quickly pick one, form a consensus within the Cabinet and place the new plan on the negotiation table with the U.S. If a new site is chosen, he should persuade local governments and residents concerned to accept the new plan. If he in fact thinks that accepting the Henoko plan is inevitable, he should tell the U.S. so and begin talks on how to lighten the burden put on the Okinawan people by hosting U.S. military forces. He also should fully explain his decision to them. Whichever direction he takes, Mr. Hatoyama must move quickly and avoid flip-flops.