Sunday, January 31, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #9: Okinawa

Amidst all the discussion of US - Japanese relations and the feelings of Guam being excluded from this process, or being yet again an object of US militarization, its easy to forget about the place where the Marines are coming from to Guam. Namely Okinawa.

Early on in the buildup process, people on Guam didn't know much about Okinawa, and despite years of this "transfer" looming over our heads, we still don't know very much. Those who have served there have some recollections of life there, but for the most part our imagining of Okinawa is defined solely by the premise that the people there, don't want the Marines there anymore and are thus sending them here. Some high-profile rapes by US Marines of Okinawan women and young girls have helped to cement this impression in people's minds. In a way, this lack of information has been helpful in pushing people to be distrusting of the buildup and those who are planning it. The lack of a strong connection with Okinawa, has let peoples' imaginations run wild and helped create a strong, but factless resistance. For instance, if last year, you were speaking to a crowd of people who were sort of undecided on the buildup, to get them moving in a critical direction you need only ask them "Why are they being kicked out of Okinawa?" or "Why do the Okinawans not want them? Why should we?

Although I have appreciated that, its been disappointing, because even in resisting this buildup and what it predicated on, namely the Department of Defense thinking of Guam primarily as its spear tip and little more, people on Guam have sometimes come to think of Okinawa in the same way. We assume that its just another part of Japan and thus erase its own colonial history and present. We reduce it to a caricature in the same way the Chamber of Commerce sometimes does to Guam in order to sell it to the DOD.

In this imagining, its often lost that Okinawa has itself long been a colonial or a sort of exceptional territory in relation to Japan, in the same way that Guam is to the United States. Not all Japanese consider Okinawa to really be part of their country and not all Okinawans consider themselves to be a fair and equal part of Japan. I have heard and read plenty of critiques about Okinawa's treatment by the Japanese home government, which treats them more like a weapon or a possession which can be sold or leased off to foreign powers in the making of defense agreements. I have also heard Okinawas discuss themselves as culturally distinct from the Japanese. But I have never heard this articulated by anyone from Okinawa as being a political difference, in the way in some Guam say that its colonial difference between its colonizer requires decolonization or a political status change.

For most people, these sorts of distinctions don't matter, but for those who are trying to resist militarism or seek peace instead of war in the Peace (or Asia-Pacific), it is crucial to see Okinawa as its own community, just as complex and complicated as Guam. As I've complained about before on this blog, for years (after the buildup was first announced), there was a massive gap between Guam and Okinawa, which both the Government of Guam and the media on Guam helped to create.

Governor Camacho's decision in 2005 to not meet with representatives from Okinawa that were traveling to Guam, set the tone for the past four years of how Guam would relate to this place form which the Marines were coming to Guam. They would relate to it through the United States. They would rely on representatives of the Department of Defense to tell you about it and tell you what's going on there. For any and all information on the buildup, the words that came out of someone representing the United States were assumed to be the truth, and both the Government of Guam (especially the Governor's Office) and the media here helped maintain this idea.

So when there would be some rumor that there were problems on the Japan side of this deal, the media here would go straight to JGPO or the DOD to hear what they had to say, and whatever they said was the reported as the truth. In recent months however, this "truth" has been repeatedly challenged, to the point where (thankfully) it no longer exists. Historic power shifts in Japan last year set the stage for everything to possibly change in terms of the buildup, or at least be delayed. Although we should be grateful that this openness and willingness to see Okinawa as something other than what the US military says it is, it is disappointing that it took this long. How much time was wasted over the past four years while we waited for another Federal official or Navy commander to come through to tell us what was going on? Or how much energy did we waste worrying about the unknown of this buildup, when Japan and Okinawa are literally just a short plane ride away?

Just last week, there was some more interesting news out of Okinawa related to this buildup. As I've written about before, this buildup on Guam is part of a large agreement between Japan and the United States, which involves the movement of, closing of, opening of other facilities throughout Japan. In the past, the position of the US has been that if one part goes, the whole thing stops. Its either all or nothing.

A recent mayoral election in Okinawa represents another potential snag in the whole process. Read below for more information.

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Mayor's election in Okinawa is setback for U.S. air base move
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

TOKYO -- In a small-town election that may have a big impact on U.S. ties with Japan, voters in Nago on Okinawa chose a new mayor Sunday who opposes the relocation of a noisy U.S. military air base to his town.

Susumu Inamine, who said during his campaign that he did not want the air station constructed in Nago, defeated the incumbent, Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, who has long supported hosting the base as a way of increasing jobs and investment.

"I was campaigning in the election with a pledge not to have a new base built," Inamine told supporters Sunday night.

The United States and Japan agreed four years ago to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now located in a dense urban area in the center of Okinawa, to Nago, a town of 60,000 in the thinly populated northern part of the tropical island. It was to have been built on landfill along a pristine coast on the edge of the town.

But to the exasperation of the Obama administration, that deal was put on hold last fall after the election of a new government led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who says Japan has been too passive in its dealings with the United States. Hatoyama has suggested that the base be moved off Okinawa or out of Japan altogether -- and has also said that the outcome of the mayoral vote in Nago would be a factor in his government's final decision, which he has promised to make by May.

Inamine's anti-base campaign attracted support from environmentalists and from local members of Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan and its coalition partners, as well as from the Japanese Communist Party.

Nago's mayor avoided mention of the airbase in his campaign, saying its relocation was not a matter that could or should be decided by him or residents of his city.

That view is shared by U.S. Marine Corps commanders, who view the Futenma air station as a linchpin in the continuous training and on-call mobility of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force, which is based on Okinawa and is the only such U.S. force in the Far East.

"National security policy cannot be made in towns and villages," Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, commander of Marine forces in the Pacific, said in an interview last week.

Relocating the Marine air station to Nago is a key part of a $26 billion deal between Japan and the United States to transfer 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and turn over valuable tracts of land to people on the island. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last fall that the deal would probably collapse if the air station does not move to Nago.

Several U.S. officials said last week they believe that senior leaders in the Hatoyama government have begun to realize that there is no workable alternative to relocating the air station as previously agreed. They also said that such an important decision should be made in Tokyo and not in a local election.

Construction of the air station in Nago would require a massive landfill in a picturesque stretch of waters now used by fishermen and snorkelers. It is opposed by environmentalists who have filed a lawsuit saying it would destroy habitat of the rare dugong, a manatee-like sea mammal. A Japanese government environmental assessment has said that dugongs have not been seen in the proposed construction area for many years.

For many Okinawans, the Futenma air station has become a symbol of the noise, pollution and risk of accidents that they associate with the large U.S. military presence on the island.

Surrounded by 92,000 people in the city of Ginowan, Futenma torments its neighbors with the comings and going of combat helicopters and transport aircraft.

In 2004, a helicopter based at the airfield crashed into the administration building of a nearby college. There were no deaths, but the incident angered local residents and led to the 2006 agreement to move the air base to Nago.

The vote in Nago does not necessarily kill the relocation of the air station. The final decision is up to the governor of Okinawa, who has shown qualified support for the base relocation plan, and the central government in Tokyo.

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Japan Municipal Election Win Bad For Guam
ABC Radio Australia
1/26/10

A municipal election in Japan has thrown American plans to reorganise its military forces in the Pacific, including its proposed buildup on Guam, into disarray.

Weekend elections in the town of Nago, on the Japanese island of Okinawa, were won in a bitter campaign against honouring a US-Japan deal that would see a Marine airbase relocated from Futenma to Nago.

The win almost certainly means mroe delays for Washington's plans to reorganise its forces in the Pacific.

Presenter: Corinne Podger
Speaker: Susumu Inamine, mayor-elect of Nago; Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's prime minister; Gavan McCormack, Japan defence analyst at the Australian National University; Gary Hiles, chief economist at the Guam Department of Labour


PODGER: Nago is a tourist town in northern Okinawa - famous for its beaches and pineapple fields. But it's also home to US Marine Camp Schwab. Four years ago the previous US and Japanese administrations reached a deal to relocate the US Marine Corp's Futenma base to Camp Schwab. Since then, there's been a change of government in both Washington and Tokyo and there's escalating opposition on Okinawa to the US presence. Locals are angry at the pollution and noise that come with an airbase, and there's persistent anger following a series of high-profile rape cases involving US soldiers. In Nago, Susumu Inamine ran a vocal campaign against the relocation, and won.

INAMINE: I wish to deliver the voice of people to the nation and prefecture.

PODGER: I wish to deliver the voice of the people to the nation, Mr Inamine told his supporters at his post-election celebration.. It was a firm message to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. In response, Mr Hatoyama has promised to find an alternative site to Nago for the Futenma facility, within four months.

HATOYAMA: As expressed before, the government will take responsibility and present a final decision by the end of May - starting from a clean sheet. We will definitely carry it out.

PODGER: Professor Gavan McCormack is a Japan defence analyst at the Australian National University. He says Mr Hatoyama may be hard-pressed to find an alternative to Nago within that timeframe.

MCCORMACK: Investigative groups are going around the country looking at alternative sites, but to find an alternative site and then to persuade the Pentagon that that site will serve all American military objectives by May - it's a very tough call.

PODGER: Professor McCormack says there are half a dozen potential alternatives for Futenma inside Japan. Another option that's been put forward is to ditch the idea of relocating Futenma within Japan altogether, and focus on Guam instead.

MCCORMACK: There's also the fact that the Marines themselves have been planning for a huge expansion of the Guam facility, and some Okinawan specialists on this matter suggest even that the American Pentagon plan is a plan that would make the Hinoko plan unnecessary because most of the Marine facilities are going to be withdrawn to Guam anyway.

PODGER: That's rung alarm bells in Guam, where there are already concerns about whether the health system, schools and infrastructure like ports and roads can cope with the US troops and facilities the buildup will involve. Gary Hiles is the chief economist at the Department of Labor.

HILES: That was proposed previously by the government of Japan, and the governor of Guam has indicated that Guam really can't handle a much larger expansion than is currently proposed.

PODGER: At the same time, the build-up is being looked to by Guam as a major new source of jobs and income. It's barely a week since the head of the US Joint Guam Project office, US Major General David Bice, said the transfer of 8-thousand US Marines from Okinawa to Guam would be delayed by two years to 2014 and both Tokyo and Washington have hinted even that deadline may not be kept. Gary Hiles says the election outcome in the Nago may further delay the Guam build-up holding up federal and private construction projects, and impacting on local jobs.

HILES: Certainly there's private investors that are planning for things such as worker housing and looking forward to getting some of these contracts for military construction activities that could be affected if there's a delay. So at the moment it's kind of a wait and see and we'll try to assess the situation and see how it plays out.

PODGER: But while another delay in the arrival of US military personnel on Guam has some downsides, there's a silver lining - a bit of extra time, Mr Hiles says, to get the facilities the troops will need on arrival, ready in time.

HILES: There's a lot of activities related to the infrastructure and the roads and the port, the educational system - the additional time and to secure funding and implement projects would be helpful.

PODGER: Whether or not Prime Minister Hatoyama can find an alternative to Nago for the Futenma airbase, either by May or, indeed, at all, Japan analyst Professor Gavan McCormack says Tokyo remains firmly committed to its multi-billion-dollar contribution towards the Guam facility.

MCCORMACK: There's no - or there's little - dispute in Japan as to the obligation entered into by the previous government to pay $US6 billion towards the expansion of Marine facilities on Guam. That, I think, is not in question. But what is in question is whether in addition to that $US6 billion, the Japanese government will proceed to construct a huge new Marine facility in Okinawa or indeed elsewhere in Japan. That's what at issue I think now.

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FOCUS: Nago race puts Hatoyama under pressure to pick new site for Futemma
NAGO, Japan, Jan. 24 KYODO
January 24 2010 21:54

21:54:00 Sunday January 24, 2010 in Japan converts to
22:54:00 Sunday January 24, 2010 in Pacific/Guam

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is now under further pressure to pick a new site outside Okinawa Prefecture for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station following Sunday's victory in the mayoral race in Nago, Okinawa, of a candidate who has been opposed to accepting any more U.S. facilities.

In the closely watched mayoral election, Susumu Inamine, 64, defeated incumbent Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, 63, who said his city would accept the Futemma airfield if the government led by Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan decides to transfer it to Nago.

One local resident, Satoshi Higa, said, ''What's good about Nago is that we have beautiful oceans around it.''

''Why do we have to see the oceans reclaimed and ruined?'' the 73-year-old retiree said.

Under the 2006 accord between a previous Japanese government led by the Liberal Democratic Party and the U.S. government, the Futemma airfield, which currently sits in a residential area in Ginowan, Okinawa, must be relocated to a new facility to be built along the coast of the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab in the sparsely populated Henoko area of Nago by 2014.

Hiroshi Ashitomi, who leads a sit-in campaign against the planned building of two runways in a V-shaped formation in Henoko, expects that the government will be able to use Inamine's victory as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the United States.

''Japan can take a tough stance toward the United States (saying that local people are against the relocation),'' Ashitomi, 63, said in an interview with Kyodo News.

But political pundits say that it is yet to be clear if Hatoyama would renege on the bilateral deal and give up the original relocation plan, a move that could sour the Japan-U.S. relationship, noting that the premier simply might have used the election as one reason for postponing his decision on the issue.

Some even argue that he may not come to a conclusion by the end of May, which is his self-imposed deadline, or even after the House of Councillors election this summer, while making various excuses.

''He (Hatoyama) has just been selecting a path that could work the best for him,'' Masaaki Gabe, a professor of international relations at the University of the Ryukyus, said. ''He is running away (from making a decision).''

''In the first place, national security should be a matter that he should be responsible for,'' he said.

Ichiro Miyagi, a senior official of the Shimabukuro election camp who is also a secretary for an LDP upper house lawmaker, was resentful at the Hatoyama government's handling of the issue, saying, ''We already made an agonizing decision 13 years ago and I find it outrageous (for Hatoyama) to leave a decision to local people again.''

Miyagi was referring to a local referendum in 1997 in which a majority of citizens voted against the relocation plan and the following decision by then Mayor Tetsuya Higa who agreed with Tokyo to accept the Futemma facility, defying the result of the referendum.

Toward solving the relocation dispute, pundits point out that Hatoyama needs to show his determination to remove the Futemma facility from Okinawa if he truly hopes so and convey it to the United States.

''If the United States understands that Japan is serious about removing the facility outside the prefecture, it would also deal with it seriously,'' Gabe said. ''Unless it becomes clear exactly what Hatoyama is thinking, the United States won't do anything but to wait until Hatoyama gives up.''

Washington officials have so far underscored that the existing accord is the sole feasible plan, pressing Japan to quickly implement the relocation plan as agreed upon.

Some local residents also expressed concerns that a funding scandal involving DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa could further delay the government's decision on the Futemma issue.

''I am worried that our fate is going to be swayed by Mr. Ozawa's case,'' a 73-year-old Nago resident, Hirokuni Iha, said.

Ozawa, who is widely believed to have wielded the biggest clout in the ruling party, is embroiled in a funding scandal that has led to the arrest of three people close to him, including a DPJ House of Representatives lawmaker.

As possible relocation sites other than Henoko, the tripartite coalition government of the DPJ, the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party has brought up such places as Ie Island and Shimoji Island, as well as the U.S. territory of Guam.

But both of the islands are in Okinawa Prefecture and are unlikely to gain approval from local governments, while Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, who visited and inspected Guam last year, has indicated that the plan of transferring the Futemma facility to the island will be hard to realize.

Each of the three parties is scheduled to present specific relocation plans by mid-February to a task force on the Futemma base issue, which was set up late last year and is led by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano of the DPJ.

==Kyodo

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