Just like his promise to move the Futenma U.S. military base “out of Okinawa,” Prime Minister Hatoyama’s timeline for resolving the issue by the end of May is as good as scrapped. On May 13, the prime minister stated that he would continue to “make efforts after May,” indicating that he has given up on finding a solution by the end of this month. Then, on May 14, he made signs that he still holds himself to the month’s-end deadline.
Faced with this erratic behavior, many people can no longer believe the prime minister’s words. There are almost no Japanese who believe that the matter will be resolved by the end of May. In regards to the meaning of the “resolution” of the Futenma relocation plan, the prime minister has described it as entailing “approval from Okinawa, the municipalities to which the base will be relocated, the United States and all the ruling political parties.”
As it turns out, obtaining approval has come to an impasse on every single one of those fronts, and it looks like the definition of the word “resolution” will have to be changed.
The strength to find solutions for complicated problems — and the decisiveness to translate them into actions — is indispensable to a leader. The prime minister is lacking in these attributes. In December, faced with a fine opportunity to resolve the issue, the prime minister was all too easily cowed by the Social Democrats’ threat to leave the coalition and postponed bringing it to conclusion.
In order to settle accounts, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano convened the Committee on the Okinawa Base Question. However, there is no reason to believe that agreement can be achieved with the Social Democrats, with whom the Democratic Party of Japan clashes on security policy. Discussions with Okinawa Prefecture and Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture were also approached in a conspicuously amateurish manner.
Anybody could have predicted that if the anti-base faction won Nago City’s January mayoral election, the problem would hit a dead end. In the end, when the opposition won the mayor’s seat, Mr. Hirano said that there was “no reason to make allowances” for the election result — inviting the mistrust of the locals.
Like Prime Minister’s Okinawa visit, Mr. Hirano’s mission to Kagoshima started out on the wrong foot. Far from convincing anyone, it only amplified the opposition of those involved. The prime minister has failed in building a relationship of trust with President Obama. When he cannot even hold honest talks with the president, there is no way that negotiations can progress. It’s unacceptable for the cabinet members involved to continue making arbitrary pronouncements. Removing bureaucratic institutions that are familiar with the chronology of the problem from negotiations in the name of “political leadership” has also contributed to the difficulties in attaining a solution.
Grave political responsibility lies with Mr. Hirano and, of course, with the Prime Minister, who has brought on this serious state of affairs. How do they intend to answer for this? Though it keeps working, if the government continues on its current track, it will not come across a solution.
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