Before the Aug. 30 Lower House election last year, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, then the Democratic Party of Japan chief, made a campaign pledge to try to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, outside Okinawa or even abroad. This led the Okinawan people, who have suffered from the heavy presence of U.S. military bases in their prefecture, to high expectations about the relocation of the Futenma functions. But these expectations have turned into disappointment and anger as Mr. Hatoyama visited Okinawa on Tuesday as prime minister.
In a meeting with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, he said it is impossible to move all Futenma functions out of Okinawa and apologized. He also said the government has yet to produce a concrete plan. Yet, in another meeting with Mayor Susumi Inamine of Nago, he stressed the importance of settling the issue without contaminating the sea off Henoko in Nago. This suggested that he is thinking of constructing a pile-supported runway in shallow waters off Camp Schwab — a slight modification to the plan agreed to by Japan and the U.S. in 2006. This idea is designed to lessen the environmental impact of the 2006 plan. But Okinawans are unlikely to accept it.
Mr. Hatoyama also mentioned moving some of Futenma’s functions to Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, about 200 km to the northeast, in another meeting with Okinawa Prefectural Assembly chairman Zenshin Takamine. But Tokunoshima residents adamantly oppose this idea.
The latest developments betray that Mr. Hatoyama’s approach to the Futenma relocation issue had neither the careful thought nor the preparation needed to work out a feasible plan acceptable, even if conditionally, to both the Okinawan people and the U.S.
The time to solve the Futenma issue before his May 31 deadline is short. Given the Okinawan people’s disappointment and anger, a reckless attempt to beat the deadline could cause fierce and chaotic protests — a situation damaging to the security alliance between Japan and the U.S.
Mr. Hatoyama should mobilize every available resource to break this impasse. Politically abusing this issue will not benefit any group or party, or the nation.
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