Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday decided to uphold a controversial accord on relocating a key American military base.
And, hours after this was announced in Tokyo through a statement of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, Mr. Hatoyama dismissed a dissenting Minister, Mizuho Fukushima, from his Cabinet.
As the leader of the Social Democratic Party, a coalition partner of the Prime Minister's Democratic Party of Japan, Ms. Fukushima refused to endorse a mandatory Cabinet decision on the issue. Mr. Hatoyama had, during his poll campaign last year, promised to try and get the unpopular base shifted out of Okinawa or even Japan altogether.
Mr. Hatoyama spoke to U.S. President Barack Obama over the telephone, expressing the “hope that we will be able to further deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance”. A top Japanese official told The Hindu Mr. Obama “appreciated” the gesture and Mr. Hatoyama sought the U.S. cooperation in reducing the impact of this decision on the local community in the Okinawa prefecture.
The centrepiece of the statementwas a reaffirmation of their security roadmap of 2006 on the realignment of American forces and bases in Japan. As a supplement to that roadmap, Friday's statement outlines broad parameters for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less-inhabited place within the Okinawa prefecture — Camp Schwab Henoko-saki area and adjacent waters.
Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama told The Hindu from Tokyo that the relocation site was certainly the same as in the 2006 roadmap. However, a “careful” study of the new document would show that “the configuration and the logistics for building a replacement facility [at the originally-agreed site] will now be decided afresh by Japan and the U.S”. Also, “something new” was the scope for “reducing the disproportionate impact of [this exercise] on the local people in Okinawa”. For the first time, the two countries agreed to adopt “a green alliance approach” of addressing environmental and social concerns.
Asked whether Tokyo's decision to stay the course with Washington was dictated by the security situation in the Korean peninsula off Japan, Mr. Kodama said “not really”. Japan reconsidered the Futenma-base issue for several months and Mr. Hatoyama kept to his timeline of May-end for a decision.
On relocating 8,000 American military personnel to Guam from Okinawa, it was noted in Friday's statement that the plan, agreed to in 2006 itself, “is dependent on tangible progress [to be] made by the Government of Japan towards completion of the replacement facility [at Henoko-saki area].” The 2006 roadmap had provided for a 2014 timeline for the implementation of decisions concerning Futenma and related issues.