At their Sunday meeting on the fringe of the G20 summit in Toronto, Canada, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed that the Japan-U.S. alliance is a cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. Their first meeting took place after bilateral ties had become somewhat awkward under the administration of Mr. Kan’s predecessor, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa.
Mr. Kan told Mr. Obama that he will make serious efforts to implement a May 28 bilateral accord, which stipulates that Futenma’s heliport function will be moved from the crowded urban area in Ginowan to the less densely populated Henoko coastal area in Nago, farther north on Okinawa Island.
Both agreed to try to lessen the burden on Okinawa Prefecture. Mr. Obama said he understands that the Futenma relocation won’t be easy, adding that he will make efforts to help U.S. forces gain more acceptance in the region. The two also took up the March 26 sinking of a South Korean corvette and Iran’s nuclear program.
As Mr. Obama indicated, resolving the Futenma issue won’t be easy, although both leaders’ express determination to lessen the burden on Okinawa is welcome. Japan and the United States are to decide on the specific location of the Futenma replacement facility, its configuration and the construction method by the end of August. Okinawan people’s opposition to the Henoko plan is so strong that both governments must realize that without getting the people on their side, the Futenma relocation will not materialize. Opponents of the plan could win in the Nago assembly election in September and in the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November.
Mr. Kan must persevere in reaching the Okinawan side. To push the relocation plan without doing so could lead to an uncontrollable situation. Some Japanese question the roles of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa, in the security situation surrounding Japan. Tokyo and Washington have the task of convincingly explaining American military roles to people. More importantly, neither should rule out the possibility of rethinking the May 28 accord.
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