U.S. Military Base Will Stay On Okinawa
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Japan's prime minister stunned residents of Okinawa over the weekend, when he went back on a campaign promise to shrink the U.S. military presence on the island. That made Washington happy. The prime minister now says he'll go along with a 2006 agreement with the U.S. that would relocate the base to a less crowded part of Okinawa. Many Okinawans want the base to be removed entirely.
Still, Lucy Craft reports, the issue is anything but solved.
LUCY CRAFT: For six decades, Okinawans have chafed at their status as repository for the U.S. military in Japan. Their tiny island is just two percent of Japanese territory, but houses nearly all of the tens of thousands of U.S. military based in Japan. Hopes were high that, at long last, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama would downsize the bases. When Hatoyama reneged on his promise yesterday, the reaction on Okinawa was immediate, says political observer Michael Chuchick(ph).
Mr. MICHAEL CHUCHICK: They're furious. They were holding up signs saying anger. They were yelling at the plane when it arrived, carrying the prime minister, saying go home, go home, (Japanese language spoken). They've had it, and now their hopes that a new government that had promised to take care of them has now betrayed them, just leaves them on the edge of fury.
CRAFT: Prime Minister Hatoyama's announcement notwithstanding, observers are skeptical the 2006 base agreement between Washington and Tokyo will go through.
Mr. CHUCHICK: In the implementation period when actual land surveys have to happen or dumptrucks have to drive through Okinawan villages, you're going to see a lot of protests. You're going to see a lot of people sitting down in the middle of the road and it's just going to be a total mess for as far out as we can see.
CRAFT: The concentration of U.S. military in southern Japan is all the more grating for Okinawans because Japan's population is in decline. Vast areas of Japan now stand mostly empty. Chuchick says the noise, pollution and crime associated with American bases makes them a hard sell anywhere else in the country.
Mr. CHUCHICK: We have a NIMBY problem - not in my backyard. No matter where you go in Japan, nowhere are U.S. forces welcome.
CRAFT: Despite his plunging popularity, Prime Minister Hatoyama and his party are expected to hang on to power. But the Okinawan debacle, observers say, has suddenly changed the whole calculus underlying the 50-year-old U.S.-Japan security alliance and there's no going back.
For NPR News, this is Lucy Craft in Tokyo.
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