- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Akikazu Hashimoto, a professor of political science at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, spoke with Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about the U.S. military presence on Okinawa. Mr. Hashimoto is the chairman of the Japanese side of the Okinawa Question, a group of specialists from the United States and Japan who have discussed the bilateral alliance and security issues from the standpoint of Okinawa.

Question: The relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma currently is going nowhere. Are the U.S. and Japan going to hammer out an alternate plan?

Answer: An important issue like this has to be resolved between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The premier, however, has not taken the initiative.

Q: Why not?

A: The main reason is that he has been giving top priority to privatization of Japan’s postal business because of his desire to leave his name in history. What is he going to work on after September? That is supposed to be a national pension system; however, this is not expected to make much progress in the limited time available.

What about diplomatic issues? The issue of the abduction of Japanese by North Korea has reached an inconclusive impasse. Meanwhile, tensions between China and Taiwan have risen. Japan, however, cannot deal with that before resolving the Okinawa issue.

Some people have suggested that some functions of the Marine air station at Futenma be moved to Shimoji island, which is closer to Taiwan and China, but this would anger China. However, when it comes to Japan’s relations with China, a more serious problem, as I see it, is that Mr. Koizumi has left the issue of his visits to Yasukuni [Shrine] unresolved.

[The shrine honors Japan’s military dead since the overthrow of the shogunate and the imperial Meiji Restoration of 1868 — including 14 officers convicted as Class A war criminals at Allied trials after World War II.]

That’s why China has turned away. I believe it is impossible to improve relations with China as long as Mr. Koizumi is in office. As long as the relationship is not improved, Japan has no voice in matters between China and Taiwan.

Q: How do you see Japan’s place in East Asia?

A: Certainly, the U.S.-Japan alliance is very important for Japan. However, countries neighboring China see that country as a threat. They expect Japan to act as a counterbalance.

In East Asia, one of the most important issues is the strained Taiwan-China relations. So Japan cannot leave the Okinawa issue unresolved. But the Koizumi Cabinet has not taken the lead. However, some bureaucrats are finally starting to act on this matter.

To make important decisions, a prime minister must show leadership and needs a powerful adviser. Mr. Koizumi used to have one — former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda. [He resigned in May for failing to make compulsory payments into the national pension program.]

Mr. Koizumi has repeatedly used the phrase “reducing the burden on Okinawa.” But he has to address how he will do this. … He has not outlined any specific plan.

Speaking of Futenma, the military helicopters there could be transferred to Kadena Air Base, Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab [all of which are on Okinawa]. … Then, Futenma Marine Corps Air Station could be put under the temporary control of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Japan would let the U.S. military use it in an emergency.

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