The southern Japanese island of Okinawa, the first colony of Japan in the 19th century and the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the WW2, has become in the past months both the symbol and the object of a diplomatic dispute between Japan and the U.S.
It began last fall when newly elected Prime Minister Hatoyama and his centre-left cabinet decided to re-examine the accord signed by the previous government and the U.S. on the relocation of the Futenma US Marine Marine Corps Air Station.
Okinawa hosts 75% of all exclusively US facilities stationed in Japan and the Futenma facility was deemed to be hazardous during a review in 1996 given its location in the middle of Ginowan City with it’s 88000 inhabitants.
Heiwayutaka points out:
The Futenma Air Station is in Ginowan, Okinawa. It is located in the center of the city, and its area is 24.6% of the city. It is threatening the citizen’s daily life. There are numerous military bases in the world, but nothing is like Futenma. Even in the U.S no base is in the middle of a civilian residential area. The Futenma base must be removed immediately.
The problem is whether to withdraw unconditionally or to relocate somewhere else. There are many different opinions about the Japan-US Security Treaty. But the removal is another thing from the evaluation of it.
The Japanese government's decision to both reconsider the pact and postpone the final decision over the base relocation sparked criticism from many in the country who fear for the future of the alliance with U.S.
Many bloggers are perplexed about the coverage of the issue by the Japanese newspapers and TVs who sound somehow alarmist.
At “The viewpoints of 101 world newspapers”, a blogger reflects [ja] on the words of a Japanese journalist at a press conference held by the American Department of State.
However, having a look at the website of the U.S. State Department, I get a different impression.
Actually you can watch and read the text of the December 15 meeting between Assistant Secretary Crowley and journalists of other countries.
Here are the questions that the Japanese journalist asks. (Twice, after both the 19th and the 30th minute).
Particularly, I would pay attention to what they talk about on the second time.
日本人記者 [Japanese Journalist]：
All of us know that the roadmap is the best plan, but actually, the Government of Japan is considering the new location. So my question is …
国務次官補 [State Department Assistant Secretary]：
I understand that. And we will continue to discuss the issue with the Government of Japan.
また気になったのが、日本人記者の「All of us」との発言。
「All of us」とは、誰のことなんでしょう。
Who is he indicating with ‘All of us'?
I cannot but read it as ‘All the Japanese people’.
This is my interpretation but since I am not that good at English, I am not sure that it may be correct.
But you who are fluent in English, how would you interpret it?
According to the deal, Futenma base would be relocated to Camp Schwab at Henoko (in Nago City), by 2014 8,000 marines would be transferred from Okinawa to Guam and parcels of land would be transferred back to Okinawan owners.
Karakuchi Ojisan (lit. Uncle Scathing Criticism) wonders why Japanese people so harshly criticize the decision of the government to take time to re-evaluate the bilateral accord instead of seeing the other side of the coin.
From the American side we can hear people saying “Hatoyama told President Obama ‘trust me!'…” and “Not honoring the bilateral accord already decided is outrageous!”.
Many criticisms have been raised also by the Japanese side, such as ‘This is going to damage the Japan-U.S. relationship which is the corner stone of Japan's defense policy.’
But aren't we making too much ado about nothing? In international relations, how else are we supposed to coordinate different countries’ interests other than by creating a process whereby each country can have its say.
Japan is still under the American protection as established by the Security Treaty, but if the U.S. accepts the offer of substitute land because Japan worries about the concerns of its Okinawan citizens, there is no better solution.
Also if, for example, things do not turn well in the negotiations can't we at least appreciate Hatoyama's efforts?
“A close and equal Japan-U.S. alliance” is founded on such examples and efforts.
But not a few people seem to believe that Japan, no matter who is governing now, must honor the agreements signed in the past. The most common reason would seem to be the necessity of keeping good relations with America (also in light of the Security Treaty of 1960) and the belief that Okinawa's economy depends on the American military bases, which have now become a ‘necessary evil.’
The blogger at P no Shiten (lit. P's viewpoint) bases his observations on the daily Sankei Shimbun'article [ja], according to which 90% of the people living in Henoko would agree with the replacement facility.
We, Japanese, should be thankful to the people of Nago City who are agreeing, even if reluctantly, to have the U.S. Army there. […]
Hatoyama's cabinet in saying “What the LDP decided is no good!”, is nonsense. Decide at once on the relocation to Henoko and don't talk such stupidity!
That is the only practical choice for both Okinawa and the U.S.
Some people living in Okinawa might see the matter from a different viewpoint though, like the journalist Take [ja].
But many Japanese people don't know how deeply rooted is the local people's sentiment or what actual area is being considered to build the base. They don't know how much public money has been used to make them accept the base or how much more money will be spent to build the new facility (perhaps hundreds of billions of Yen, I heard) and even if media know, they won't report it.
Henoko, the site presently indicated for the relocation, has been witnessing protests against the base for years, especially from environmentalist groups. The local symbol of which is the dugong, an endangered marine mammal. The sea around Henoko area, where the new facility is to be constructed, is said to be rich in the seaweeds and sea grass that the animal feeds on. According to the local associations, the new base would mean the extinction of the dugong in the area.
沖縄のジュゴン：The Okinawa Dugong, Save the Dugong Campaign Center (SDCC)