Prime Minister Hatoyama held a press conference concluding his day visit to Okinawa, in which he formally announced that the government is planning to build a replacement base in Henoko (see news report below).
The press conference was held at Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum, which commemorates the 1,418 victims of Tsushima-maru, the Japanese cargo/passenger ship that was attacked by USS Bowfin on the way from Okinawa to Kagoshima on August 22, 1944. More than a half of the victims were school children who were evacuating Okinawa, as the island was expected to be the next battlefield after the fall of Saipan in July 1944.
Here is a part of the poem on the website of the Museum “To You, Who Live Now.”
We were born about 60 years ago
when Okinawa was becoming a battle ground.
As we were evacuating to Kyushu,
our ship was torpedoed by an American submarine and sank.
We were thrown into the sea and the majority lost their lives.
We are still at the bottom of the sea which entombs us.
Why did we have to die?
Did we do anything wrong?
What did Hatoyama, who spoke about his “policies for protecting life（命を守る政治）” at the Diet opening session in January, say yesterday in the presence of the spirits the dead children of Tsushima-maru?
“I have put my heart and soul into the consideration of this issue among the reality of security concerns. I try to understand the feelings that Okinawan people have had for all these years amid this history. I also want to seek understanding of Okinawan people. I am aware of the weight of my word ‘kengai’ (the pre-election pledge to move Futenma outside of the prefecture) which gave hope to Okinawans. I know there is criticism that our plan has gone back to the previous LDP plan. About that, I would like to sincerely apologize. It will be different from the existing plan, but the plan has to be off the shore of Henoko. I want to explain to the people of Okinawa so that they understand.
I am aware of the challenge that the Okinawan economy is facing, and the fact that it is related to the existence of military bases. I would like to hear opinions of the business people, and the government will provide support. It is an economic issue and not about the relocation issue. It is not about a policy of ‘candy and whip (carrot and stick).’
I also understand the concern that measures for reduction of base burden should be separate from the relocation issue. The previous administration could not carry through these measures. I would like you to think of them (relocation and burden reduction) as a package. We are actively engaging the United States in negotiations. “
In a nutshell, Hatoyama said, “I am sorry I broke my promise, but we are building a base in Henoko. The government will provide subsidies as compensation. In return of the new base, the government will negotiate with the U.S. some measures for easing the burden of Okinawans.”
DPJ/Obama alliance is about to do what LDP/Bush and all the other past Japan/US leaders have always done in the post-war period of Okinawa: to perpetuate the US military bases in Okinawa and their harms. Okinawa’s hope for finally starting to reduce the bases under the new administration is now officially severed. Considering the overwhelming popular opposition within Okinawa, Hatoyama’s visit is a declaration of war from the two governments against Okinawans.
Shorly after the Nago mayoral election, a government official was reported as saying that building a base in Henoko, where protesters’ persistence has prevailed for more than a decade, would duplicate the experience of Narita. The Narita Airport struggle, which arose from the compulsory expropriation of local farmers’ land, resulted in the loss of three police officers and hundreds injured and arrested.
Is another bloody battle of Okinawa our answer to the message from Tsushimamaru children entombed at the sea bottom? Is another base over the pristine ocean of Henoko?
The two governments must withdraw from the plan to build another base in Okinawa.
Amid the depressing situation, I was encouraged by this remark by Mark Selden, coordinator of Japan Focus.
“It seems to me that an important part of our work is to make clear that, even as DPJ moves to embrace the original Henoko plan, and as it finds ways to buy a measure of local support, strong opposition remains, and it is that opposition that has stymied the base plan for many years. It can continue to do so, particularly if we can build international support for it in the context of recognizing both the heavy burden that Okinawa has borne, and a wider anti-base campaign.”
(See comments to this blog post too.)
Hatoyama apologizes for plan to move Futenma base within Okinawa
Sunday 23rd May, 02:30 PM JST
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama unveiled Sunday for the first time his government’s plan to relocate a U.S. Marine base within Okinawa and apologized for his failure to make good on his earlier vow to move the military facility outside the prefecture.
‘‘We came to the conclusion that we have to ask local residents to accept the base relocation to an area near the Henoko district’’ in Nago, Okinawa, the premier told Okinawa Gov Hirokazu Nakaima in their second meeting this month, open to the press, at the Okinawa prefectural government office.
He said the relocation within the prefecture was a ‘‘heartbreaking’’ decision to achieve the return of land occupied by the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to locals and extended his ‘‘heartfelt apology for causing much confusion’’ among Okinawans in the process of reaching that conclusion.
Nakaima expressed his ‘‘extreme regret’’ over the government’s decision and said he considers it ‘‘extremely difficult’’ to go ahead with the plan, because expectations had been growing among local residents that Hatoyama would try to transfer functions of Futenma out of the prefecture.
‘‘The gap between people’s expectations (and the latest government decision) is huge. I expect the premier to take time to offer further explanations and work out a solution that would satisfy us,’’ the governor told Hatoyama.
Nakaima also told reporters later he feels the premier has ‘‘betrayed’’ Okinawa residents.
In the meeting, Hatoyama also said he will ask other Japanese prefectures at a meeting of governors Thursday to accept some of the U.S. military drills currently conducted in Okinawa.
The premier said the government has given up on the plan to transfer Futenma’s heliport functions out of Okinawa due to ‘‘remaining uncertainties in East Asia,’’ especially on the Korean Peninsula.
‘‘As prime minister, I have to say we cannot allow the situation in which deterrence provided by the U.S. forces in Japan will diminish,’’ he said.
Hatoyama later told reporters the government will try to continue negotiations with the United States to implement measures to ease base-hosting burdens on Okinawa beyond his self-imposed deadline of May 31 for settling the issue.
The talks were held during Hatoyama’s second visit this month to Okinawa in a last-minute attempt to gain the understanding of local people before May 31. He last visited the prefecture on May 4.
Japan and the United States broadly agreed Saturday on a fresh accord expected to be announced May 28 which effectively states the Futenma facility in the populous city of Ginowan will be moved to land to be created through filling in the sea near the Marines’ Camp Schwab at Cape Henoko in Nago, sources close to the matter said.
The fresh agreement is effectively on par with an existing relocation plan under a 2006 Japan-U.S. accord.
Nakaima told reporters of his displeasure at the government’s attitude in offering explanations to Okinawa after reaching an accord with Washington.
Local protesters staged a rally outside of the prefectural government office, calling on Hatoyama to give up the plan to relocate the base within the prefecture. Many of them held up a card bearing a Chinese character for ‘‘anger.’‘
During his one-day trip, the premier also met with Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine and 11 other local municipality heads in Nago. During the talks with Hatoyama, Inamine expressed his ‘‘firm opposition’’ to the Futemma relocation plan to his city, saying he ‘‘cannot accept it at all.’‘
Later in the day, Hatoyama held talks with local business representatives to discuss the base relocation and measures to invigorate the local economy.
In Fukuoka, Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, told reporters she is against the plan unveiled by the premier to move the Futemma facility to Nago. The SDP is a coalition partner of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan led by Hatoyama.
Okinawa hosts about 75% of the land area used for U.S. military facilities in Japan and half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. service personnel in the country.
Before coming to power, the premier had pledged during an election campaign last summer that he would seek to move Futenma functions out of Okinawa altogether to ease the prefecture’s base-hosting burdens, such as noise pollution and risks of accidents and crimes associated with the U.S. military presence. Sunday’s decision is likely to further erode his grip on power.
Hatoyama has seen his popularity ratings plunge in recent months?as voters increasingly are disenchanted with his failure to act on a number of campaign pledges, including the Futenma issue as well as promises for toll-free highways and cash payments for babies.
His biggest political ally, Ichiro Ozawa, the head of Hatoyama’s Democratic Party, has been the target of allegations involving campaign fund abuse, although Ozawa has denied any wrongdoing and Japanese prosecutors have repeatedly said that they will not charge him.
But the failure to appease the people of Okinawa is likely to be Hatoyama’s biggest problem as Japan heads into nationwide elections, which must be held sometime in July or close to that time.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said that he discussed Futenma plans with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, while she was in Tokyo on Friday.