Time for a Huddle
This afternoon it was reported–with ne’er a ripple–that PM Hatoyama of Japan would adhere to the 2006 agreement made with the US and not pursue the more radical shift off Okinawa he had promised during his campaign.
In the campaign that swept the Democrats to power last year, Hatoyama had raised hopes the Marine base could be moved off Okinawa, host to about half the U.S. forces in Japan.
But Washington sought to stick to the 2006 deal to move the facility from the crowded central city of Ginowan to Nago.
Hatoyama later backtracked, saying some Marines had to stay to deter threats. During a visit to Beijing on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended Hatoyama for making “the difficult but nevertheless correct decision.”
It was pretty unlikely Hatoyama would be able to pursue the issue to a resolution that would actually make the Okinawans happy, realistically; I don’t doubt that he and his administration probably wanted very much to bump the base from Futenma, but even if his party’s ruling secretary hadn’t been indited in a funding scandal and his finance minister Hirohisa Fujii hadn’t left within months of the DPJ’s ascension in the Diet, Hatoyama would have had a challenging time getting past the US’s stubbornness, the logistical nightmare of full-scale transference from the existing USMC infrastructure in the area, and the amount of political capital he would have to trade to accomplish what, in the register of Japan’s political goals, does not amount to a great deal.
Hatoyama, however, took an interesting route in defending his choice.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said on Monday tension on the Korean peninsula underlined the importance of tight U.S.-Japan ties and was key to his decision to keep a controversial U.S. airbase on Okinawa.
While it’s certainly true that things are taking something of a nosedive on the Korean peninsula, and that when China, Japan, and South Korea meet for their trilateral talks later this year North Korea will likely be a foremost topic of conversation, North Korea’s aggression is hardly the straw that sent the camel to the chiropractor. The decision to adhere to the 2006 agreement was political expediency, even if it was regionally timely. But John McCreary has a good take on the situation:
The crisis over the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan probably contributed to Hatoyama’s decision to not inject any more strain in the US security relationship. The North unwittingly gave Hatoyama an exit that saves face and is defensible on national security grounds, despite the disappointment of the Okinawans. Now is not the time to show North Korea any fractures among the Allies.
The last line is very true. North Korea is a wild card, and it looks like some kind of conflict is coming to a head the closer Kim Jong Il inches towards a fatal health problem.