Hatoyama accommodates the US on Futenma

It may have taken a few months longer than I expected, but it appears that the Hatoyama government may have finally accommodated itself to the 2006 agreement on the realignment of US forces. The US and Japanese governments have reached an understanding regarding the future of Futenma following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Tokyo.
The latest bilateral agreement largely reaffirms the 2006 roadmap: the Hatoyama government has agreed to the construction of a new runway somewhere in the vicinity of Camp Schwab at Henoko Bay, with the details regarding the precise location and the method of construction to be decided by President Obama’s visit to Japan in autumn. The US, meanwhile, agreed to disperse some training activities from Okinawa to elsewhere in Japan. The Hatoyama government has also stated that it will campaign for the inclusion in the Two-Plus-Two statement due 28 May a pledge to return bases in Okinawa to Japanese ownership within ten to fifteen years.
The Hatoyama government’s work is by no means complete. Not only will it have to coax prefectural and local officials in Okinawa into not making too much of a fuss, but the government will also have to work to preserve the governing coalition. Fukushima Mizuho, Social Democratic Party chief and consumer affairs minister, replied to the news by asking why the prime minister went ahead with talks with the US without securing the support of the Okinawan people and his own coalition. Whether Fukushima’s remarks are the prelude to the SDPJ’s pulling out of the coalition remains to be seen. Even more troublesome for the prime minister could be the opposition of Ozawa Ichiro, the secretary-general of his own party. Despite his professions to having no role in policymaking, Ozawa has not refrained from taking a hard line in calling for relocation of Futenma outside of Okinawa entirely. Responding to the latest agreement, Ozawa said it would be “difficult” to secure the acquiescence of the Okinawan people (which, one would think, would be at least partly Ozawa’s job as secretary-general).
It is tempting to criticize the Hatoyama government for its supposed “about face” on Futenma. However, from the beginning of this dispute the government has repeatedly stressed that it was keeping all options on the table, including the reaffirmation of the 2006 agreement as it stands. As I’ve said before, the Hatoyama government was acting in good faith. It genuinely wanted to review the 2006 agreement in the hope of finding something better. Had the US government not reacted so harshly to the Hatoyama government’s fairly modest request, and perhaps even signaled its willingness to offer concessions early on this dispute could very well have been contained and even resolved months ago. As it stands, prolonged public exposure gave the Okinawan public time to mobilize, making it that much harder for the Hatoyama government to secure domestic approval for a slightly revised agreement.
While the Hatoyama government may have been genuinely open to the 2006 agreement from the start, one cannot rule out the possibility that Hatoyama has genuinely come to believe that the 2006 agreement is by and large the best option. Given that the prime minister has been rather guarded about his preferences, it is difficult to say. However, Hatoyama has certainly made more frequent use of phrases like “national interest” in recent weeks than he did a mere nine months ago. As the dispute wore on, he became noticeably more inclined to speak of US bases in terms of regional security and deterrence (something Martin Frid noticed). Presumably Hatoyama will be expected to give an honest account of his reasoning to his own party, his party’s coalition partners, and local officials in the days to come.
The damage to his government has, of course, already been done, because the damage to the government’s reputation had less to do with the substance of the realignment plan — about which the public is divided — than with the government’s gross incompetence in its handling of the issue. Despite its persistent efforts to remind the public that all options were on the table, I wonder whether the public will see the government’s actions as anything but capitulation after months of dithering. At the very least the government has removed the issue from the front burner, freeing it to direct its (and the public’s) attention to other matters before the upper house election expected to be held in July.
What of the US-Japan alliance? Despite the warnings from Washington of the damage that Hatoyama was doing to the alliance by asking for time to consider whether there might be a plan that would satisfy all parties, the reality is that the alliance is more durable than the Cassandras thought. That is at least in part thanks to China’s latest maritime mischief and North Korea’s torpedoing of the Cheonan. The idea of a desire on the part of the Hatoyama government to replace the US-Japan alliance with a Sino-Japanese entente was always far-fetched, but it seemed more plausible among some in the shadow of the Futenma. 
Indeed, in retrospect the reaction of US officials and commentators to the Hatoyama government’s request seems even more overblown given the lack of histrionics in Washington in response to Britain’s new coalition government, given that both Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nicholas Clegg have questioned the US-UK “special relationship” in terms not altogether different from the DPJ. (Stephen Walt puts the attitudes of both governments in wider context here.) The difference, of course, is that whereas Britain has to find the right balance between its ties between the US and the European Union, Japan has to navigate between the US and China. It goes without saying that London’s relations with Brussels do not cause nearly as much anxiety in Washington as Tokyo’s with Beijing. But recognizing the difference does not excuse the overreaction. The Hatoyama government was not the first and will not be the last government of a US ally in Asia to argue with the US while trying to maintain a constructive relationship with China. The sooner Washington recognizes that the better it will be for both the US and its allies.
Meanwhile, this new agreement does not mean that the DPJ is abandoning its belief in a balanced, Asia-centered foreign policy in which the alliance is important but not all-consuming. “Resolving” Futenma is a necessary first step to actually discussing what the alliance should look like as the DPJ continues to pursue closer bilateral ties throughout Asia — and not just or primarily with China.

13 thoughts on “Hatoyama accommodates the US on Futenma

  1. Anonymous

    The Hatoyama government (or rather, Hatoyama himself) should be criticized for its lack of vision.It was clear that this would be the outcome, yet Hatoyama ran on a visionary and idealistic platform that had no base. I'm more perplexed by the fact that Hatoyama would even consider running on such a stance of \”good faith\” without any consultation with the United States. For strategic reasons, it is clear that the current location is ideal for the US base. To fondle the Japanese public into thinking that moving the base off of Japan is suicide. What is more frustrating is Hatoyama's statements a few weeks back contending that his remarks to move the base off of Okinawa during the campaign last year were not the voice of the DPJ, but the voice of Hatoyama alone. As acting president and head of the DPJ, such talk is blatantly inexcusable. It will be interesting to see how this issue influences the outcome of the Upper House elections this year. While foreign policy, particularly of Okinawa, are not entirely contentious or controversial enough to swing elections in Japan, the recent trends of the party, including issues of money politics, may lead to a drastic decline in seats for the DPJ. Whether that translates into a LDP victory is yet to be seen.


  2. Anonymous

    Hatoyama promised the Okinawan people that he would try to get as many base functions moved as possible. It turned out to be pro-forma due to lack support from the US side, and more importantly because it was not his decision to make in the first place. Anyone who feels betrayed must have missed the part about effort and commitment not always guaranteeing results. Or they simply don't realize that some promises don't fly when it comes to creation of workable policy. If the Okinawan people have a better idea of how to appease the American side, they need to quit complaining and put it on the table.


  3. Fat Tony

    また処分されてるなー。Yes, there certainly could have been more flexibility on the U.S. side here. And depending on how the election in July plays out, Washington may well have ensured that its mostest importantest ally ever will be a political basket-case for the next 3 years or so. Well done hardliners!Minority government, anyone?


  4. PaxAmericana

    Anon 2,Are you suggesting they should learn from the Red Shirts in Thailand? Moral suasion hasn't worked for the last 50 years, so it is time for a different approach. At least that much is clear.And I would argue that even conservatives in Okinawa now see the bases as a big money loser, due to the damage it causes tourism. This may change the game going forward; that, and the lack of baramaki money from the center to throw around.


  5. Did not Secretary Clinton provide the “right touch” to soften the frayed “male egos”?All that remains is for President Obama to fly in and shake hands.A lot of hard work remains for P.M. Hatoyama, though, for himself and for his party.


  6. Robert

    Anonymous said..\”If the Okinawan people have a better idea of how to appease the American side..\” This is the problem. Why should the Okianwan's have to appease the American side? America is protecting Japan and itself and not soley Okinawa. There is no reason to invade Okinawa and the only security issue Okinawa has is if Okinawa will be attacked because of the US bases. America and Japan forcefully took over Okinawa and now want the Okinawan's to appease them.. Nuts!Why do you think Korea and Iran want Nuclear weapons? Not to use them but to ensure that they are heard by those who think that the rest of the world should appease America.


  7. Delta

    Here is a comment I tried to but could not post on Martin Frid's blog:About the anti-base demo in Okinawa:Though organisers claimed some 90,000 people attended, a number of Japanese media had a crowd-control company (if I understand correctly) examine aerial photographs of that event.It then emerged that just over 11,000 people were visible. If you were to count those who were hidden by trees, stood outside the camera's field of vision etc. as well, you could get to 12,000 or perhaps 13,000 — nowhere near 90,000. Indeed, I read in the _Shukan Shincho_ that organisers were reduced to claiming that you could arrive at the figure of 90,000 if you counted those who wanted to attend as well!As for the burden of the bases, we should not ignore the less visible but no less real burden of the air traffic control at USAF Yokota being in US rather than Japanese hands, which means commercial flights between Tokyo and the west of Japan have to be diverted over the sea south of Izu. The extra flight time was cut by about 6 minutes last year, I understand after years of persistent negotiations by Gov. Isihara.My idea towards sharing the burden of hosting the US military presence across Japan is to move USAF Kadena to Kansai (which I call Wakayama) airport, and build a new airport off Hagoromo (Takaishi City) — that way, there would be no excuse for keeping Itami airport open :-).The Futenma mess, though, is symptomatic of the shambles the Hatoyama government has shown itself to be.Yes, the new cabinet is full of ministers with little or no cabinet experience. Yes, the 'Lehman shock' means some of the more ambitious plans will now have to be scaled back.But the main problem IMO is Mr. Hatoyama himself. In the _Shukan Bunshun_ I read about him being called the 'five-minute man' in Nagatacho, meaning he has no opinions of his own but would rather give those of whoever he talked with five minutes ago.Whatever truth there may be to this, what is certain is that he is in no position to chide anyone — Mr. Ozawa, Fukushima sensei, Shizuka-chan, Mr. Akamatsu or whomever. He has, after all, his own weakness in that for years he received 15 million yen a month in 'child benefit' from his mother and denies having known about it at the time and, worse still, failed to pay taxes on it — at a time when public debt comes to about 180% of GDP.The 'king of tax evasion' will now have to make an exit, one way or another. Now that Kunio has left the LDP of his own accord, expect Mr. Tanigaki's team to savage the Hatoyama brothers in the run-up to the coming polls.Mr. Frid, keep up the good work on healthy food 🙂 — the country needs protecting from poisoned _gyoza_!More from me later.


  8. PaxAmericana

    It seems to me that the rather pathetic appearance of Hatoyama recently shows the difficulty of taking an independent path. If the DPJ wants to be part of an American-led, anti-China alliance, that will be straightforward.The downside of what we've seen from the DPJ is that it resembles the old LDP too much.


  9. Ms. Fukushima’s creds can only be increased by her stance; she has forced the guys to either kill her (politically, that is), or give Okinawans a substantial price for the deal. The DPJ is now in a no-win situation. Japanese politics at its best, a Kabuki theater for real. Where’s the music please!


  10. Delta

    With just hours to go before the showdown in Nagatacho, let me submit this:It is one thing to dream of a 'sea of fraternity' (yu-ai no umi) around your country, but another to call for one in this part of the world at this time.Fact is that, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a great many peoples were liberated and the Cold War came to an end — in much of Eurasia.In East Asia, though, the Cold War endures, most notably in the form of the Korean War which has not formally ended and may turn hot again at any moment. So much for the 'heavenly peace' the South Korean city was named for after which the warship was named which was sunk, probably to provide an \”accomplishment\” for the Kim Dynasty's heir apparent.Behind the Kim Dynasty, there are of course the 'red emperors' of Beijing.Not only do they make clear by their actions that they would prop up the Kim Dynasty come what may, for the same reasons why the Ming intervened when Toyotomi Hideyoshi launched his expeditions to Korea in the 1590s; they are now behind the open _pakuri_ of Russian arms technology:http://defensetech.org/2010/04/30/russia-losing-valuable-arms-buyer-as-chinese-defense-industry-ramps-up/All this puts the disrespect for Japanese territory (Senkaku, Oki no Torishima etc.) in a gloomy light.In short, we all have to realise that the current upper ecehons of the Zhongnanhai have no intention of reciprocating for PM Hatoyama's shows of fraternity.As for Fukushima Mizuho, I wish Gov. Higashikokubaru would blast her for riding her anti-US hobby horse at a time when all-out shooting can resume just across the sea at any moment, flying to Okinawa in a de facto kick-off to campaigning. In so doing she abandoned the consumer affairs portfolio to mandarins at a time when foot & mouth is raging in Miyazaki, ignoring her bithplace (Nobeoka, I gather) in the process.So much for _inochi wo mamoru seiji_, _seiji shudo-_ etc.. _Ningen shikkaku_ is what comes to my mind, with apologies to Dazai Osamu.The way things are, Ministers Edano, Maehara, Nagatsuma, Okada etc. can bring about so much to change Japan the way it needs changing — it will all be to no avail at the ballot box, all because of the _zenekon mazakon_ duo.IMO it looks increasingly as if what happened at the end of last August is only a prelude to much bigger change, much like the February Revolution in Russia in 1917.Indeed, this is a bit of a rant, but I hope everyone can take it with good humour :-).


  11. The Reductionist Rag(INTRO)The complexities of lifeAre often so intenseAnd often very hard to understandBut instead of navel gazingAnd sitting on a fenceWhy not just give yourself the upper ha-a-and?(PIANO VAMPING)Oh, the ‘Nawans there kick up a fussWhen their mountains are turned to dustWhen their beaches annihilatedYou’d think they resent being occupat’ed! (CHORUS) The Reductionist Rag! The Reductionist Rag!Deny their existence, it’s in the bag!The Reductionist Rag!Oh, the mischief of the PLAIn their backyard they want a sayThey don’t adhere to the playground rule:We found it, we keep it, so pooh on you!The Reductionist Rag! The Reductionist Rag!When geography becomes a dragThe Reductionist Rag! And recently in TokyoFor them “Alliance” was just for show“Détente in Asia”? What a to-do!Denied for the Soviets, we deny it for you!The Reductionist Rag! The Reductionist Rag!“Alliance” means “Forever”, more than a brag!The Reductionist Rag! And in Pyongyang the situationRequires just justificationRequires our hand of stabilityJust like from ’50 to ’53!The Reductionist Rag! The Reductionist Rag!If their defenses should ever lagThe Reductionist Rag! The other day Professor “Smith”Provided further the standard riff“’Give and Take’” is the RealityFor there to be sustainability”Echoing an essay I first prepared Back in my école secondaireWhich just confirms ol’ Howard ZOn activity most scholarly:When in school grad or primaryWe’re always fed the same old storyExcept of course when you get olderThere’s just more footnotes to comb overThe Reductionist Rag! The Reductionist Rag!To deny other views, we’ll never sag!Us? Aggressors? Now there’s a wag!Don’t be a nag! Just show the flag!TheReductionist Ra-a-a-ag!


  12. Hatoyama is a clown because he never needed to use Futenma as an election plank; they would have won without it. He should have focused on the economy. Unemployment is up two months in a row.He is a clown because he thought he could pull off selling the failure of renegotiating the 2006 deal. But most of all, he is a clown because he said on national television that he now sees how the Marines are vital to the defense of Japan. This is either a baldfaced lie or a horrific misunderstanding of what the Marines are trained and meant to do. This is like saying the Yankees won the World Series last year because of their defense, or the Patriots won the Super Bowl because of their running game. The Marines are a purely offensive force. They take an area, secure it and hold it until the Army can move in. They do not engage in defensive maneuvers; they never have. Hatoyama should know this even by studying his own nation's history.


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