04/30/2010, 00.00
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Okinawans’ anger against Tokyo boils over

by Pino Cazzaniga
As islanders become increasingly unwilling to put up with US base, the crisis deepens. Some 90,000 people rally against the installation. The Japanese prime minister’s plan for the base faces major hurdles. The situation has major domestic and international implications.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa continues to be front-page news. The already critical situation has gotten worse with four people taking top billing in its unfolding. A major rally (pictured) that took place last Sunday on Okinawa Island highlighted the issue. The four main players are Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Okinawa Prefecture Governor Hirozaku Nakaima, Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine and US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.

Okinawans playing referee with Tokyo

Football (soccer) is popular among Japanese. ‘Yelo kado’ or ‘yellow card’ (as it pronounced in Japanese) is a well-known expression. When 90,000 residents of the island came together last Sunday to demonstrate against the government, they all wore yellow, symbolically telling Prime Minister Hatoyama that he had one last chance before he would get a ‘red’ or ‘penalty card’, which would throw him out of the game. Many of the protesters were clear about that, as they carried banners that said, “Is the Hatoyama government betraying us?”

Opposition lawmakers and 39 of the 41 island mayors joined the demonstrators. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima was there as well, a remarkable turn of events since he had always refused to join anti-base demonstrations in the past. Elected in November 2006, he had accepted the 2006 agreement to move the base from Futenma to Henoko, near the city of Nago, in the northern part of the island.  Political realism most likely is behind his presence. In his address, he told protesters that he had asked the government to do away with the dangers of the US base as soon as possible, freeing the island from its burden.

Susumu Inamine, the new mayor of Nago City, which is close to Henoko Bay, the location for the new US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma according to the 2006 agreement, came out swinging at Tokyo. “Though [Hatoyama] pledged to relocate the air station outside Okinawa Prefecture, the government has been wavering on this issue. There are even signs [the government will proceed with the initial plan] to relocate functions of the air station to the Henoko district. These haphazard measures and the unscrupulous approach simply mock residents of the prefecture.” The applause he got from 90,000 protesters could be heard across the island.

Pent up anger boils over

For Okinawa Governor Nakaima, the problem affects more than islanders’ lives since the security of every Japanese is tied to the island.  Ultimately, it is about the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security signed by the United States and Japan in 1960, which gave the Americans six bases in Japan, one in Okinawa and five elsewhere. In fact, 75 per cent of the land and half of the 50,000 US soldiers stationed in Japan are in Okinawa.

Tokyo paid for these bases in money; Okinawans paid for its base in human costs: noise, accidents and loss of dignity. Two years ago for example, three US Marines raped a 12-year-old girl.

If we keep in mind that in April 1945, about 150,000 civilians died on the island when the United States used the island as its jumping point to invade the Japanese heartland, we can understand so much anger. Okinawans no longer want to bear such a burden any longer.

Diplomatic fast track between Tokyo and Washington

The basic problem is the relationship between Okinawans and the Japanese government. It is also about Washington because of its bases. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs Kurt Campbell is directly involved in the matter. Before leaving for Tokyo a few days ago, he held talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Okada in Washington. On the plane, he told Japanese journalists that Washington had received “serious proposals from the Japanese government that included promising elements”. The 2006 plan agreed by the two sides is the best way to proceed, he said, but the United States is ready to work constructively with Japan on the elements the Japanese government considers important. In other words, Washington appears unwilling to give up its base on Okinawa.

A slow Hatoyama risks missing the deadline

Hatoyama’s silence and slowness is not going down well with Japanese media or public opinion. Something about the “promising elements” has emerged. The prime minister appears to be favouring a giant floating platform off Henoko Bay for a heliport that would be at the disposal of US Marines.  The Japanese government had proposed something similar back in 1996-1998. If implemented, it would remove objections based on fears concerning potential pollution in the bay.

Yesterday, Hatoyama announced plans to move between 1,000 and 2,500 US Marines from Futenma Base to the island of Tokunoshima, south of Kagoshima on the southern tip of Kyūshū.

Both proposals are unrealisable according to critics: the first one because most Okinawans simply do not want any US base on the island, the second one because Torao Tokuda, a former lawmaker with strong influence on Tokunoshima, has rejected the idea.

Hatoyama has, for his part, reiterated his plan and is preparing for a confrontation with the governor of Okinawa. Time is running out and everything must be settled by the end of May, Japan's self imposed deadline for solving the long-simmering dispute. However, the prime minister’s silence and his slow action have irritated the press and the local population. For this reason, he runs the risk of missing the deadline.

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