There are some very high powered US-Japan events taking place this next week in Washington, the most prominent of which is titled "150 Years of Amity and 50 Years of Alliance: Adopting an Enhanced Agenda for US-Japan Partnership" co-sponsored by the Center for a New American Security, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and the Ocean Policy Research Foundation.
The assembled great and good of US-Japan relations will be spending a lot of time talking about Futenma US Marine Air Corps Station, which may have brought down Japan's Obamaesque Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Most of the voices will state that Hatoyama and his No. 2, Ichiro Ozawa, were flawed leaders and that the US and Japan have an opportunity to push reset with Naoto Kan and the new leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan.
I will be attending this conference as well -- but it's clear that the voices of a "status quo" US-Japan security relationship will get the most air time at this meeting.
People there will try to convince themselves that the U.S. did not push too hard for Futenma, did not help collapse a government, and that there is nothing too serious lurking beneath the political surface among regular Japanese about the Futenma incident. All will be well. All will be well.
After having spent some time in Tokyo and Okinawa this past week with journalist James Fallows and other leading political writers and thinkers in Japan, I don't believe that this confidence in the "status quo" is very wise. Many Japanese feel throttled by their American ally and feel that they have less and less choice in the security relationship -- constrained both by regional realities and an American overlord that doesn't understand how serious the strain of Futenma is on those Japanese who live near it -- and how serious a psychological issue Futenma remains to many Japanese on other islands who used to never give a moment's thought to the downside costs of the US-Japan security relationship and are now vividly aware given the palace intrigue of late in US-Japan relations.
The chart to the left depicts responses from all of Okinawa's mayors to the decision by Prime Minister Hatoyama on 23 May 2010 to relocate the primary functions of Futenma Air Station to Henoko. The Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper conducted the survey.
The first column indicates whether they accept or reject Hatoyama's stated plan. The second column asks whether they support or not if special conditions (unspecified) are met. The third column asks their views about the Hatoyama agreement with the U.S. in light of the American claim that Futenma helps provide an anchor of "deterrence" against North Korean aggression against Japan. Here is a larger version of the chart as a pdf.
There is overwhelming resistance on Okinawa to the bases there. "N+" means an emphatic no.
While Okinawa is only populated by 1.5 million people compared to Japan's entire population of 128 million, the level of empathy between Japanese residents on the main islands with those on Okinawa is very high.
I think that for the conference coming up in Washington, it's important that someone reference the views and frustration of Okinawans -- as they are part of the equation -- if not a part of the conference.