Prime Minister Hatoyama’s vow to reexamine agreed-upon plans to move the Marines from Futenma, their US base in Okinawa, nears a May 31 deadline. What many see as his mishandling of the issue may cost him in parliament.
While that message resonated among some voters, it has backed Japan’s prime minister into a corner from which he will be lucky to escape when the country votes in upper-house elections in July.
Since his election last August, the question of how security ties will develop in the long term has been supplanted by the fate of a single Marine Corps base on the southern island of Okinawa, home to more than half the 47,000 US troops in Japan.
Futenma base, located in the middle of the heavily populated city of Ginowan, has become a focal point for the local antibase movement, which poured 90,000 demonstrators onto the streets three weeks ago. It is also a test of the US’s willingness to reduce its military footprint in Japan.
The daily Asahi newspaper published a survey on Friday showing that 43 percent of Okinawans would like US forces to leave the island, while 42 percent just want the US military presence reduced.
Mindful of local resentment toward the Marine Corps, Mr. Hatoyama said he would do all he could to move the base off the island altogether. He now has just weeks to meet a self-imposed deadline of May 31 to devise a plan for Futenma’s future that is acceptable to the United States, Okinawans, and an electorate that, in recent polls, has shown it is far from impressed with his handling of the issue.
He must decide whether to honor a 2006 agreement with the US that would see Futenma moved to an offshore location in a less populated part of the island, and 8,000 marines and their dependents moved, by 2014, to Guam. The White House has given Hatoyama time to weigh options, while making it clear it wants to stick to the original deal.