At a press conference on Wednesday Ms. Rice reportedly conveyed her and Ambassador Schieffer’s regrets to the victim of the alleged rape and her family, and said, according to the Washington Post, “I would hope they know that the American government is concerned about them and the American people are concerned about them.” In a meeting with Prime Minister Fukuda, she affirmed the US commitment to devise a system for ensuring the recurrence of criminal incidents in Okinawa. As Mainichi reports, there is some disagreement between the US (and the Japanese government) on one side and Okinawan authorities on the other as far as countermeasures are concerned. Tokyo has proposed joint US MP-Okinawan Police patrols, a proposal to which the Okinawan prefectural government has responded coolly.
Meanwhile, there is a problem with Ms. Rice’s remarks. Of course for the sake of appearances she has to apologize — is this an apology? — on behalf of the American people as well as the US government. It is difficult to say, however, that the American people know or care about this problem. I’m sure if prompted many Americans would express their own regrets about the incident, but public opinion is more or less silent on this issue and the alliance in general. If asked, many Americans would probably wonder why US forces are needed in Japan in the first place (back to the difficulty of discerning just what the “average” voter thinks). The silence of US public opinion on this issue, especially when compared with the political sensitivity of the base issue in Japan, means that Washington has a much freer hand than Tokyo. Accordingly, the US must necessarily lead on transformation. If the sections of the 2006 agreement pertaining to Okinawa are to be fulfilled on schedule, Washington cannot wait for Japan to act: it must take the initiative itself.
Ms. Rice’s words are fine — but action is what’s needed.