Okinawa base strains diplomacy

Honolulu Advertiser
November 22, 2009
By Richard Halloran

A churning dispute between Japan and the U.S. over the realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan has revealed not only political and diplomatic differences between the governments of President Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, but a cultural chasm in the way Americans and Japanese view agreements.

The realignment, agreed to in May 2007, calls on the U.S. to move a Marine air station on Okinawa from a congested city to a less crowded place; to transfer 17,000 Marines and family members from Okinawa to U.S. territory on Guam; and to consolidate other U.S. bases on the island and thus return land to Okinawans. The intent was to reduce friction between U.S. forces and Okinawans.

The agreement was signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Fumio Kyuma, who was minister of defense at the time, and Taro Aso, who was minister of foreign affairs. In diplomatic practice, international pacts agreed to by one administration are generally considered to be binding on successor administrations. …

In this case, the Hatoyama government, which came to office in September, has said in effect that it wants to reopen the negotiations. After meeting with Obama in Tokyo earlier this month, Hatoyama said he will consider relocating the air station outside of Okinawa and perhaps outside of Japan. “We’ll make every effort,” he said, “to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.” …