Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lunch with Inoue Satoshi

A few weeks ago I had the honor of meeting a current and a former member of the Japanese Parliament that were on Guam for a fact-finding trip. They were on Guam in order to gather information about how Guam will be affected by the transfer of Marines from Okinawa, for which construction is scheduled to begin next July and the whole transfer completed by 2014. While here, they met with community members, activists and local leaders.

The current parliament member is named Inoue Satoshi and he is a member of the House of Councillors, and a member of the Japanese Communist Party. A small mini-scandal was created after his party sent out a press release following his visit, which quoted that the Speaker of the Legislature Judi Won Pat stating that the majority of people on Guam are against the military buildup. Won Pat's response was that her words were taken out of context or that there was a glitch in the translation, and that in fact provided a balanced portrait of Guam, where many people are for it, but people still have reservations or apprehensions.

(I'm sure that Won Pat was afraid of being labelled a communist for meeting with them or appearing to sympathize with them. I wonder if she knows that the United States Navy labelled her father a Communist in 1949?)

I and other activists met with Councillor Satoshi and his crew for lunch, and the discussion was fascinating and very illuminating. Our media on Guam is truly pitiful when it comes to this issue, truly unable to do a decent job on really discussing what this buildup means, what is going on with it. Only able to handle it in small pieces, tiny little fragments of it.

Earlier this year freshly appointed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Japan signing an agreement which had already been signed several years ago, committing both Japan and the United States to a re-alignment package, part of which is the movement of 8,000 Marines to Guam from Okinawan. Although in the United States media and in Guam the signing of this already signed agreement was heralded as a sign that this buildup will happen, that it is a done deal, that this should be interpreted as a sign of the buildup's strength and inevitability, in truth the fact that Clinton had to go to Japan and make this gesture, reveals the fragility of the whole process. That in truth, there are a number of factors, some in the United States, but most in Japan which point to this whole re-alignment either being significantly delayed or being sent back to the drawing board completely.

For those who don't know much about this issue, my post might be hard to follow, but I'll do my best to bring in the relevant background as I write.

The transfer of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, is as I stated just one aspect of as many as 19 separate agreements which make up this whole realignment process. All of these 19 separate agreements were turned into a single package by the United States, so that they must all take place at the same time and that if a single one is snagged or disagreed upon, it could potentially ruin the whole process.

The main impetus behind this whole realignment process is WTDWO, or What To Do With Okinawa? Okinawa is a former colony of Japan, former colony of the United States military, and today shares a similar heavily militarized and quasi-colonial status to Japan, that Guam does to the United States. Okinawa posses the majority of the American military presence in Japan at present, and since World War II this has been the cause of numerous conflicts, and even resulted in large sums of money from the central Japanese government being pumped into Okinawa, as sort of hush money, or payments meant to pacify the population and keep the US military there.

If you look over the realignment agreements, the core of the whole roadmap is the closing or partial closing of a handful of bases or service areas in southern Okinawa and the relocating of them to a new and existing facilities in the north. The main snag now is the building of the Futenma Replacement Facility. Futenma Base is currently in a heavily crowded urban area of Okinawa and the replacement plan would take the base out of the city and locate it over the waters of Henoko Bay in the north. Environmental concerns, court cases over the protection of endangered species, and resistance by some local Okinawan officials have all threatened to stall the process.

Another potential sticking point is the fact that part of the roadmap is a commitment by the Japanese government to pay approximately $6 billion of the total $10 - 15 billion that it will cost to build the facilities on Guam necessary to house the 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents that will becoming from Okinawa. This might seem like a ludicrous thing, that the Government of Japan would be paying for the movement of the United States military, but part of the rationale was that all of this $6 billion would be going to Japanese companies and so it would actually be a way of stimulating the Japanese economy. Right now however, there is serious resistance and resentment amongst the Japanese public that Japan is expected to pay for the building of a foreign country's military facilities on foreign soil.

One further dimension that could change this entire game is that there will most likely be a change in political leadership in the Japanese Government very soon. According to Councillor Satoshi, when the power shifts, this whole process will be re-examined and elements of it renegotiated. Okinawa would be the main focus and also the billions of dollars that Japan is expected to pay to move someone else's troops, but there is also a promise that the Guam section of this realignment will be reconsidered as well.

During the first few months after the transfer of Marines from Okinawa to Guam was announced, a group of legislators from Japan came to Guam and hoped to meet with Felix Camacho, to discuss what to expect and how they can cooperate to make sure this transition happens smoothly. Camacho distinguished himself early on in this process that he was going to basically massage the necks of the military and the Feds and not going to provide much leadership or resistance on this issue, by actually refusing to meet with these legislators for fear that it would upset the United States!

Former Senator Jesse Anderson Lujan put it so well in his article "Where Have Guam's Leaders Gone?"

After setting several meetings which were postponed, the Governor
eventually insultingly cancelled the meetings outright. This indecision
and rebuke of important Japanese legislators has had a huge negative impact
on our credibility in Japan – the source of most of our private investment and
our tourists, not to mention the cash that will be spent to accomplish the move.
The Governor’s meek excuse was that he did not want to interfere in Japanese
politics even though we are already indirectly involved in Japanese politics
just by being involved in this move. But more likely the Governor was attempting
to be unnecessarily meek and polite to our military, deferring to them all
access to information and coordination, even though we were not even offered the
courtesy of an observer on the Okinawa negotiating team.

But this is the way things work isn't it? We look to the United States for everything. If they say that all is well and all is good, we believe them and just hope and pray its all true. We share such a similar relationship with Okinawa and now our destinies have been bound up in a more intense and dangerous way, and yet we still know very little about what is going on there, what is happening in Japan regarding this move.

For those who would like to know more about Japan and Okinawa and the climate there, since now even beyond just the Japanese economy and tourists, we are bound up by their decisions and political mood, you can check out the website Japan Focus. One my friends Miyume Tanji, a Japan scholar teaching in Australia, recently forwarded an article that she wrote for the site on two communities in Okinawa and their different strategies for dealing with militarization and sustainability.

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