It appears that common sense is prevailing and what many have always thought should happen is happening – the US is going to detach the Futenma controversy from its pursuit of a deeper (en) US-Japan alliance (ja). The particularly reassuring aspect of this is that it was Secretary of Defense Gates himself who gave the indication (at the Great Wall of China no less). Secretary Gates was one of the more outspoken American officials who applied, some say unfairly, great pressure to Hatoyama’s administration over the Futenma relocation issue early last year, thus contributing to its downfall. This time Gates described the Futenma impasse and the drawing up of new common goals as “obviously independent issues.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara recently agreed to start work on (new) common strategic goals which will be ready when PM Kan visits the US later this year.
Which makes DPJ Secretary General Okada’s recent comments somewhat bizarre. In a 2 day trip to Okinawa Okada stated that Okinawa essentially had no other choice but to accept the Henoko plan and that since the previous government had already investigated and failed to find an alternative site for the Marines the DPJ was not going to deviate from the accord agreed to in the dying hours of the Hatoyama Cabinet last year. Following on from Sengoku’s “kanju” comment (ja),1 it suggests that the DPJ is going to take a harder line towards Okinawa. Assuming that Secretary Gates’s statement was not a bolt out of the blue, one wonders what they have to gain from such a strategy. Carrots didn’t work so now it’s time for some sticks? I think this would be mistaken.
Nevertheless this bodes well – after all it is uncertain notwithstanding Japanese/Okinawan reluctance that the US would be able to make good on the Futenma accord if it was to be progressed now given some of the issues with the relocation of Marines to Guam – and the US fiscal position. Figuring out what is going to work for both sides in a more relaxed less urgent atmosphere will help. So too will the US and Japan taking another look at the rapidly changing geopolitical situation and the Pacific military balance and seeing how a large Marine base is going to actually support security in the area given cost and (new) priorities. Gates himself admitted in this statement that the “global situation” had changed considerably since the last set of strategic goals were drawn up in 2005 (and the initial 2006 Futenma relocation agreement). Maybe PM Kan and the DPJ can make something of this development, assuming the party doesn’t implode.
1 甘受していただく It has a nuance of not just acceptance but “to deal with” the consequence of something – it sounds pretentious and arrogant when coming from a senior official – it also sounds pretty stuffy as it is not a word a mere ‘commoner’ would use when requesting someone to take a hit for the team.