Japan public opinion prevented hasty settlement of Futenma

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The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is in disarray over the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa.

While looking for a replacement of Ginowan as the host of the Futenma base, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio says it is necessary for the three ruling parties to hold further consultations regarding where to move the Futenma base operations.

Japan, under the Liberal Democratic Party-led government, and the United States agreed to relocate the Futenma base more than 13 years ago. The present DPJ-led government recently called for the issue to be resolved within the year. But the government is unable to do this mainly because of growing opposition in Japan, and particularly in Okinawa, where the demand for an "immediate closure and withdrawal of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station" is increasing as well as virtual unanimous opposition to its relocation within Okinawa and to the plan to construct a new U.S. air base in Nago.

A DPJ lawmaker from Okinawa said, "There is no choice but to use peoples' power to frustrate the plan to go ahead with the new base construction. The Nago mayoral election in January is very important in this regard."

Another DPJ Dietmember, who is critical of the relocation agreement, said, "If the Hatoyama government is to revoke the present government policy, it must fully rely on strong public opposition. The Democratic Party must discuss its policy regarding the U.S. military bases issue."

However, the DPJ is not squarely facing the issue in solidarity with public opinion.

Earlier in December, DPJ members of the Diet from Okinawa began collecting signatures calling for the USMC Futenma base to be moved out of Okinawa and even out of Japan. To their surprise, more than 50 DPJ Dietmembers (of about 420 in both houses) signed the petition on the very first day it was circulated.

However, they were forced to suspend the signature collection process on that day because the DPJ leadership regarded this as a move to "pull the legs" out from under the ruling party.

Except for a small group of Dietmembers deeply involved with this issue, most DPJ Dietmembers are not involved in any active discussions within the party on the Futenma issue. Thus, policy debate appears to be suppressed within the DPJ because of the so-called "integration of decision-making processes of the government and the ruling party."

A former senior government official said, "Japan now has a good chance to end its subservience to the U.S. The Futenma issue can be solved when Japan puts pressure on the U.S. government by saying that it can no longer handle the matter without regard for Okinawans' opinion."

While many pundits are saying, "The delay in resolving this issue may provoke a crisis in the Japan-U.S. alliance toward implementing the bilateral agreement," drastic efforts should be made to increase public demand calling for the withdrawal and relocation of the U.S. Futenma air base to somewhere outside of Japan.

Photo: Japanese public opinion is against keeping the giant U.S. military base in Okinawa, as this November 2009 Kyodo/Japan Times photo shows 21,000 people protesting the planned relocation of a U.S. military airfield within Okinawa, just ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Japan.  This photo was found on Creative Commons.

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