Tanaka Sakai and Gavan McCormack: Japanese Bureaucrats Hide Decision to Move All US Marines out of Okinawa to Guam

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Tanaka Sakai is the creator, researcher, writer and editor of Tanaka News (www.tanakanews.com), a Japanese-language news service on Japan and the world. This is the sequel to an earlier article called “China-Japan Defense Cooperation and the Okinawa-based US Military Base.” Both of the original Japanese texts of December 10 and December 15, 2009 are available at his site.

Gavan McCormack is emeritus professor at Australian National University, coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, author, most recently, of Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.]

The Japanese government announced on 15 December 2009 that it was postponing indefinitely any decision on the contentious issue of a ”Replacement Facility” for the Futenma Marine base in Okinawa. The announcement to make no decision was low-key and at first glance may seem inconsequential. Its symbolic importance, however, is huge, signalling a possible changing of the tide of history in East Asia, above all in the US-Japan relationship.

It meant that the Hatoyama government had withstood the most sustained barrage of US pressure, intimidation, insult, ultimatum, and threat, and decided, at least for the present, to say: “No.” Hatoyama was telling the Obama government, in effect, that rather than rubber stamp an agreement made by the former ruling party, he would insist on renegotiating the 2005-6 “Reorganization of US Forces in Japan” and the “Guam Treaty” in which that agreement was incorporated. He was serving notice that the “Client State” relationship so carefully cultivated by the former (George W. Bush) administration and its successive LDP partners would be renegotiated and perhaps dismantled. How, was far from clear. But the US-Japan relationship can never be the same again.

The bottom line of the message was clear, even if it could only be read in the invisible ink of a bland announcement: if the Hayoyama administration prevails, no “Futenma Replacement Facility” will be built for the Marines in the waters off Cape Henoko in Northern Okinawa. A Pentagon dream since 1966, it had come close to realization under bilateral agreements in 1996, 2006, and 2009, only to be stalled each time by one of the most remarkable, non-violent political movements in modern Japanese history. Today this most unequal of struggles has reached a decisive moment.

Months of intense pressure (see "The Battle of Okinawa 2009") had brought the Hatoyama government close to capitulation. The bureaucrats in both the Defense and Foreign Ministries insisted that the national interest was at stake and required submission. Moreover, the Futenma Base was a quid pro quo for US plans to withdraw—at Japanese expense—an estimated 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam. US Ambassador Roos (known to be a close personal friend of President Obama) expostulated, red-faced (according to observers) to the Japanese Defense and Foreign Ministers on 4 December that trust between Obama and Hatoyama might be grievously damaged if agreement to construct the Henoko base was not reached before the end of 2009. In Okinawa the following day, Foreign Minister Okada could only beg his audiences of Democratic Party faithful to understand how important this issue was for the US, and therefore for the alliance and for Japan. All previous LDP-led governments had submitted just as Okinawa had been forced to submit to American bases for more than six decades, unbroken by the 1972 “reversion” to Japan. The pressure applied to Hatoyama far exceeded that directed to any previous government of Japan, and many assumed that in due course he, too, would submit. He chose otherwise.

The mid-December decision was due to three factors, one long-term, one short-term, and one personal: the first and overwhelming one is the triumph of the non-violent resistance movement of the people of Okinawa itself, sustained since 1996; the second is the outcome of the 30 August Lower House national elections, which swept the Hatoyama DPJ to power nationally and especially in Okinawa gave them and other opponents of base construction a massive endorsement; the third is the strength of resolve by Prime Minister Hatoyama. He insisted throughout the crisis that he would personally make the key decision, and in the end that is what he has done, at least for the time being.

The decision was not solely shaped by US considerations. Japanese domestic politics played a critical role. Had Hatoyama submitted, however, and ordered work to commence on filling in the seas off Oura bay for the construction of a base, he would have faced the likely collapse of his coalition government (since both minor parties had said they would withdraw), the absolute alienation of the Okinawan people from him and his party (and in a sense from the Japanese national project itself), and the need to resort to martial law measures to enforce works whose legitimacy was accepted by virtually nobody in Okinawa. Submission, in other words, might over time not only have undermined the DPJ but might even have more seriously damaged the US-Japan relationship than resistance.

When Foreign Minister Okada visited Okinawa on 5 December, he was shocked to find nobody at all who would support the base construction project. His pleas to understand the American insistence that it proceed and his calls to recognize the importance of the US-Japan “alliance,” simply roused his DPJ audiences to anger. The Okinawan prefectural assembly is more than 90 percent opposed. Even the “conservative” Okinawan Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) League has said that it will switch from support to opposition to the base project if a decision is held off beyond the end of this year (as has now happened). Conservative mayors, including the Mayor of Naha, are increasingly lining up in support of the platform of anti-base meetings, while Futenma Mayor Iha, as Tanaka Sakai shows in the following report, has led the way in unmasking the machinations of Tokyo and Washington on the future of the base. The August election of the Hatoyama government has given Okinawan people the sense that at last they have a government that might listen to them.

Options for an alternative “Futenma Replacement Facility” to Henoko have been canvassed in recent months and they will now be submitted to a ruling coalition commission for further investigation. They include Guam (discussed below), Kadena, the US Air Force base close to Futenma, the island of Umage, just 8 square kilometres in area and 12 kilometres west of Tanegashima in Kagoshima prefecture, the island of Io (once known as Iwojima) south of Tokyo, and various unused or much underused airports in mainland Japan itself, from Osaka’s Kansai International (offered for consideration by Osaka’s Governor) to the recently built “white elephant” Shizuoka or Ibaraki airports.

Okinawan sentiments are especially aroused today as the lies and deception they have been fed by LDP governments over the past half-century gradually come to light. The Okinawan “return” to Japan in 1972 is now known to have been a purchase, in which Japan paid huge sums to subsidize the US war effort in Vietnam, opening the path to a system of Japanese war subsidies paid to the Pentagon ever since in the guise of “omoiyari” (consideration or sympathy) payments. The Japanese government, contrary to its proud “three non-nuclear policies”, has long given covert permission to US vessels carrying nuclear weapons to pass through Japanese ports and signalled its readiness to allow them into Okinawa in advance of any renewed war in Korea. The details of the “secret nuclear agreements” are now being exposed by former Japanese government officials who were party to the arrangements. Most explosive is the fact that Okinawans continue to learn more details of the readiness of their government over decades to pay almost any price to keep the US forces in Okinawa while sparing mainland Japanese the inconvenience of having numerous GIs in residence. That sense of grievance cannot easily be assuaged.

One major new factor in the Okinawan equation is the revelation, flowing principally from the office of the Okinawan town mayor of Ginowan City (reluctant host to the Futenma Marine Air station), that the Henoko project itself rests on a massive deception. That revelation is the subject of the Tanaka Sakai text that follows.

The Marine Corps documents that Mayor Iha Yōichi analyses call into question the official Japanese government claim that the construction of a Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko is necessary to accommodate the Marine helicopter force by showing that the 2006 Guam Integrated Military Development Plan is a design to accommodate those helicopter forces plus battle force, artillery and supply units. If the Futenma Marines are designated under Pentagon plans for relocation to Guam anyway, the Henoko project loses its strategic purpose. And the foundations for Japanese government payments to maintain US forces in Okinawa, still less to pay for their transfer to Guam, are baseless. Even before the Iha revelations, military critics in Japan questioned the rationale behind the Agreement on Reorganization of US Forces in Japan and the Guam Treaty, many viewing them as new forms of coercion and of the secret diplomacy that has long characterized US-Japan dealings on Okinawa. If the Marines are going to Guam anyway, under Pentagon plans, the real design of the Guam Treaty agreements can only be to siphon off further substantial Japanese subsidies to the Pentagon, to provide a foothold for the Marines in an Okinawan resort location, or, perhaps, a fine new facility eventually for Japan’s own Self Defense Forces.

The Government of Japan’s initial response has been to deny Mayor Iha’s claims and the national media has yet to pursue them seriously. They are, however, based on persuasive US documentation and on the evidence of Iha’s investigations in Guam. Certainly, they sharply contradict the official rationale for the Henoko base construction and the official understanding of the Guam transfer. Now that the relocation issue has been returned to the drawing board, the newly established coalition body to study and report on the relocation issue has on the table many interesting and potentially explosive questions to examine.

[Excerpt, continue reading at http://japanfocus.org/-Tanaka-Sakai/3274]

Read entire article at Japan Focus

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