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    New Nago mayor opposes current US military restructuring plan

    Posted by Sean at 06:18, January 23rd, 2006

    …but so did his opponents, so that part of the outcome wasn’t really under dispute.

    The Governor of Okinawa spoke today with the head of the JDA on the restructuring of US military installations in Okinawa, which is an ongoing issue on which there seems to be little movement lately:

    Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine visited Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga at the JDA offices on 23 January. Of the mayoral election in the city of Nago, he stated, “The new mayor will be someone who acts in good faith, but all three candidates stood opposed to the proposal to shift [US military] operations and facilities from the Futenma Base to the coastal areas of Camp Schwab. It will still be a difficult issue from here on.” He went on to say of the Futenma restructuring issue that “from the Okinawa side, we will continue to act in good faith.”

    The JDA has asked for concessions from the US aimed at minimizing the burdens placed on locals where our bases are located. The Yomiuri had a good English-edition rundown of the election referred to above:

    In fact, Shimabukuro [who won, BTW–SRK] is opposed to the relocation plan to which the Japanese and the U.S. governments agreed (under the agreed plan, the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan will be relocated to the southern coast of Camp Schwab in Nago). However, Shimabukuro wants to leave room for compromise should the plan be revised.

    Henoko Ward Head Yasumasa Oshiro said: “Those who protest against the plan say, ‘The money will be gone as it’s spent, but the base will remain forever.’ But these pretty words don’t feed people. What’s important is compensation.”

    Quite a few restaurants in the central part of the ward seemed to have closed down, others seem to be struggling, the English letters on their signs fading away.

    An elderly taxi driver said, “This used to be a lively quarter, full of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, but now it’s deserted, with no young people coming in.”

    Oshiro is opposed to the current relocation plan, which suggests building the air station only 300 meters away from the closest civilian residence. He does not approve of the way the central government overruled the local governments when it agreed to the plan.

    Oshiro criticized the central government, saying: “We’re not interested in dugongs and seaweed beds. The government should have dealt effectively with the opponents and promoted the idea of building the airport on reclaimed land in shallow waters off Henoko. It was their delinquency that didn’t make it happen.”

    A few months ago, the US was the party pushing the original reclaimed-land proposal; local voters didn’t go for it, and it isn’t just a gambit by Okinawan politicians to shove the relocated facilities as far away from the locals as possible.

    *******

    Oh, and BTW, whoops!

    Several unmanned helicopters produced by Yamaha Motor Co. may have been passed on to China’s People’s Liberation Army, it has been learned.

    Suspicions have arisen that the helicopters, which are employed largely for industrial use but can be also used for military purposes, were illegally exported to China, investigators allege.

    Yamaha Motor has denied the allegations, but suspicions have arisen that the helicopters may have been passed on to the People’s Liberation Army. Police and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry are investigating the company over its actions.

    Investigators said Yamaha Motor was involved in trade with an aircraft firm in Beijing. The aircraft firm’s Web site says Yamaha Motor’s unmanned helicopters have prospects for “wide use in civilian and military fields.” An unmanned helicopter is pictured alongside a People’s Liberation Army jet.


    大連立

    Posted by Sean at 15:55, December 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi is putting the most kindly light on Democratic Party of Japan leader Maehara’s recent rejection of the idea of fuller cooperation with the ruling coalition:

    On 16 December, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke about DPJ leader Seiji Maehara’s denial of the possibility of a “broad alliance” with the LDP: “As the head of the opposition party, he had no choice but to say such a thing.” Koizumi went further and stated, “The world of politics is difficult to predict even in the short-term. In Germany, such cooperation had been said to be impossible, but it came to pass,” suggesting once again that a broad alliance [was feasible]. He was responding to questions from the press corps at the Prime Minister’s residence.

    Regarding the wave upon wave of criticisms leveled at Maehara at the [DPJ] party convention, Koizumi gave the DPJ leader a shout-out: “Being in a leadership position is tough. I hope Mr. Maehara will see things through and ride out his current difficulties.”

    That last reference to “Mr. Maehara” may be a noun of direct address, but that doesn’t really affect the basic meaning. Maehara has been relatively quiet. You see him quoted frequently, of course–he’s the opposition leader, after all–but his comments rarely have the irritability of Katsuya Okada’s. Of course, that could mean either that he’s shrewdly buying his time or that he realizes how green he is and is steering a middle course out of fear that he’ll make a misstep. Or some of both.

    BTW, Maehara, one of whose distinguishing characteristics is his higher level of hawkishness than previous DPJ leaders, intimated to the press on a visit to Okinawa that he could be prepared to agree to a special provision to shift land use rights from Naha to Tokyo in order to implement the transfer of US military facilities at Futenma. On the other hand, he’s criticized the government’s current treatment of the Okinawa government: “When restructuring specific [military] bases, close consultation with–and consent of–regional government entities, is indispensable; but [the approach] this time around was extremely crude. It demonstrated contempt [for Okinawa].” Tension between the capital and the provinces is a fact of life for every large, complex society I’m aware of, and in Japan, things are especially prickly between Tokyo and Okinawa.

    Okinawa has its own distinct language and history and sorely resents being treated, as it views things, like the mainland’s trash dump. The locals don’t like putting up with the off-hours behavior of military personnel and the foreign control of large swaths of land, but they’d be in an economic pickle if we left, and they know it. Regarding US military installations, of course, things aren’t black and white. Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in Japan. Having our bases there brings in money and creates jobs. The US could probably learn to cultivate a more friendly manner toward its sub-tropical hosts, but I’m not sure how much good that would do when the far more long-term problem is with the deep rift between Tokyo and Naha.


    Next generation

    Posted by Sean at 03:29, December 16th, 2005

    A joint missile initiative between Japan and the US is moving ahead:

    On 15 December, the government opened meeting on national security at the Prime Minister’s residence, entering into proceedings to move joint Japan-US technological research on next-generation missile defense systems into the development phase starting in 2006. The Japan Defense Agency explained that development expenditures over nine years will total US $2.1 to 2.7 billion, and that Japan is coordinating with the United States under a plan for Japan to shoulder US $1.0 to 1.2 billion of that burden.

    The missile type in question is the Aegis, which is ship-based.

    Added at 11:30: The US and Japan are also set to run joint ground exercises:

    The Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Marine Corps will carry out the first bilateral joint drill off the west coast of the United States in January to infiltrate a remote island and regain control of it from an enemy, sources said Thursday.

    Until recently, U.S. forces have been reluctant to carry out joint exercises with Japan on a remote island in an effort to avoid possible confrontation with China.

    The decision, however, was made to demonstrate bilateral cooperation in Okinawa Prefecture and the Southwest Islands against China, which has been rapidly boosting its military capability in the last few years.

    The map exercise incorporates exchanging gunfire with the enemy to regain control of the island.

    “The U.S. marines are superior to the GSDF in terms of combat capability. The drill is aimed at learning the basics in landing operations, including infiltration, from the marines. The exercise levels will be increased as the drill continues,” a senior GSDF officer said.

    About 600 islands lie off the Kyushu and Okinawa regions, however, GSDF bases are located only on the main island of Okinawa and Tsushima island in Nagasaki Prefecture. The Southwest Islands are poorly protected by Japan’s defense system.

    Whenever I bring this sort of thing up, someone inevitably asks, “Do you really expect China to attack Japan?” And, well, no, I don’t think anyone really does, given things as they are now. The state of the PRC military makes a coup against the CCP appear unlikely, and CCP itself, mindful of its in many ways tenuous grip on power, would be foolish to launch an assault against Japan. But circumstances can change very quickly; and besides, purely from the standpoint of basic readiness, it’s simply ridiculous for Japan–prosperous and insular as it is–not to have solid plans for defense against a large, restless neighbor with a historical pattern of hostility toward Japan. As the Asahi glancingly notes, the point of the exercise is also to impress upon other players in the region that the US and Japan partnership is firm.


    追悼式

    Posted by Sean at 04:37, October 29th, 2005

    Not all of Prime Minister Koizumi’s gestures of respect for Japanese military dead are controversial. This morning he attended a memorial service for fallen SDF personnel:

    Addressing those assembled at a memorial service held at the Japan Defense Agency for Self-Defense Force personnel who have fallen in the line of duty, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi stated, “This precious sacrifice by the spirits [of our soldiers] has not been made for nothing; we will continue to construct a system that allows us to complete the exalted mission [they undertook].”

    The memorial was for sixteen or so SDF trainees who were killed in training accidents; there have been no combat operations since the war, of course. Koizumi’s statement was pretty content free today–in political terms, I mean; there’s nothing weightless about honoring dead soldiers–but it’s always good to pay attention to these things because things that slip into set-piece speeches can sometimes give you a glimpse of what the administration is thinking. Where to take the SDF from here has been a big issue over the last few years. The US supports moves to make it more like a standing army, with the legal ability to participate in defense operations with allies. North Korea likes to test missiles over our heads. China’s economic growth has been accompanied by increased unrest and schizo behavior by the CCP. Japan wants permanent membership on the UN Security Council. And that doesn’t even factor in Japan’s place on the Islamofascist terror hit list, for the transgression of being a developed and free country.

    The current proposal by the LDP’s committee on constitutional revision is to change the SDF to the SDA: 自衛軍 (jieigun: self-defense army). You can never translate these things perfectly, but a 軍 is more menacing-sounding than a 隊. Koizumi appears not to have said much of anything about how his administration views the SDF’s “mission” this morning, but it’s clearly changing.


    Something that is substantive

    Posted by Sean at 23:20, October 13th, 2005

    The US and Japan are still in negotiations over the Futenma USMC base in Okinawa and (of course) the ban on beef imports. Thomas Schieffer, Howard Baker’s colorless successor as US ambassador to Japan, appears to be trying to apply pressure:

    Japan has proposed holding a “two plus two” top level security meeting on Oct. 29 over the issue and expects the two countries to compile an interim report on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan before U.S. President George W. Bush’s expected visit in November.

    Schieffer said the Futenma issue should be resolved before discussing these matters, while stressing that they should be left to the two countries’ negotiators.

    “I think the purpose of the interim agreement is to announce something that is substantive,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to have a meeting just for a meeting’s sake.”

    He called ongoing bilateral talks on the U.S. military’s realignment plans strategic negotiations.

    “What we have been continuing to try to stress throughout the negotiations…are strategic elements in the alliance,” Schieffer said. “What we also want to do is look at what those forces would be and what they will need to be capable of doing in the future in order to be effective.”

    Schieffer also expressed strong dissatisfaction with Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports due to concerns over mad cow disease.

    “I’m afraid it has done real damage to the American-Japanese relationship, because it has reminded people of some of the trade frictions that existed between our two countries in the 1980s,” he said. “I hope that the issue resolves as soon as possible, because if this continues to go on, I think that the United States Congress is going to impose sanctions on Japan.”

    “I hope that the matter will be largely resolved, if not completely [by the time of Bush’s visit],” he said.

    Well, the beef import ban is excessive given what scientists know about BSE; I’m not sure that comparisons with Japan’s outright protectionist trade barriers of two decades ago really work. In any case, the Japanese government appears to be relenting on the issue of where to move Futenma’s helicopter operations, which to judge from reports will make restructuring easier for the armed forces.


    Japan and US disagree over relocation of USMC base

    Posted by Sean at 22:05, October 3rd, 2005

    The Nikkei reports:

    The exchange of opinions between the Japanese and US governments revolving around where to relocate the facilities at the Futenma [USMC] Base in Okinawa, a focal point of the restructuring of US military presence in Japan, is heating up. Negotiations that were initially quiet on the surface have developed into a state in which each side responds with a ringing declaration of its own position. The Japanese government sent Japan Defense Agency [policy] head Kazuo Ofuru to the US on 4 October and is looking for an opening by which to work its way out of the current deadlock, but there is a deep divide between the Japan-side proposal to move operations to the Camp Schwab exercise grounds (the on-land proposal) and the US-side proposal to reclaim shallows for the purpose (the off-shore proposal).

    “The US is pushing its off-shore proposal, but we’ve said, ‘It will be very difficult to build [the base] on sea; let’s go with a land base.’ A plan for the same sort of base has also been rejected by voters in Nago [City].”

    Takemasa Moriya, Deputy Minister of Defense, revealed to a 3 October press conference that he was very dissatisfied with the US response.

    The Futenma facilities in question house helicopter operations, which are a touchy subject on both sides these past few years.

    Moriya, BTW, is an interesting character. He’s the highest-level pure bureaucrat at the Japan Defense Agency. (The cabinet ministers themselves, of course, are selected by the Prime Minister and approved by the ruling party, so they tend to come from outside.) He’s very powerful, and he doesn’t mince words–you learn to stop and pay attention when one of his soundbites comes on NHK, because what he says is usually as reliable an indicator as you get of what Japan’s military strategists are thinking. Or at least what they want the Japanese public and the rest of the world to think they’re thinking.


    敵視政策

    Posted by Sean at 03:49, September 23rd, 2005

    You know, it’s hard to be the DPRK. You send a few test missiles over Japan, you sell some nuke technology on the black market, and all of a sudden, everyone’s branding you an aggressor and crap. Luckily, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs has the set the UN straight about who the real problem in this part of the world is:

    Choe Su-hon, the DPRK Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressed the United Nations General Assembly on 22 September, declaring that, because the US is continuing its “policy of hostile regard” and aiming to deliver a nuclear first-strike at North Korea, his country “has no choice but to maintain nuclear deterrance capability for purposes of self-defense, as a method of preserving the dignity and sovereignty of our state.”

    On the other hand, the Deputy Minister argued that the DPRK’s ultimate goal is “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and that it would become unnecessary to possess “even a single nuclear weapon” if relations with the US were normalized. He appealed for…

    I can’t believe I’m translating this bilge with a straight face.

    …[recognition of] the grave necessity of a doctrine of multilateralism with the UN at its core, [as a way of] mindfully taking refuge from the unilateralism and first strikes of the Bush administration, which had invaded Iraq.

    Regarding Japan’s campaign for permanent membership on the UN Security Council, he emphasized that he sees Japan as refusing to atone for “its past crimes [such as during World War II]” against its neighboring countries, and therefore believes that Japan’s request should definitely not be approved.

    It may interest people to know that this stuff sounds just as wind-up-lefty and content free in Japanese as in English. What’s also interesting is that the word I translated “atone” is 清算 (seisan: “liquidate”), which I’ve never seen used figuratively. Well, I guess “liquidate” is already figurative, because you don’t actually melt assets and pour them away; I’ve never seen it used outside a financial context. Or maybe I just haven’t noticed.

    Added at 16:54: Oh, wait–this was the 次官, not the 副官. I called him the “Vice-Minister,” who’s actually someone else. It’s fixed now.

    Added still later: Okay, I guess if I see a word used in a way I haven’t seen, I could do the normal thing and, like, consult a dictionary. It looks as if 清算 would have been rendered more accurately with something closer to a generalized version of “liquidate,” like “deal with conclusively.”


    DPRK agrees to abandon nukes

    Posted by Sean at 07:36, September 19th, 2005

    Okay, we’ll have to see what actually comes of this, but strictly as a gesture, it’s good news:

    In a dramatic turn to six-nation negotiations that have been held since 2003, Pyongyang agreed to abandon the weapons and rejoin international arms treaties in exchange for energy assistance from neighboring nations and sovereignty guarantees from the United States.

    Japan’s envoy to the talks in Beijing, Kenichiro Sasae, said North Korea’s nuclear program poses a serious threat to peace in Asia and welcomed Monday’s outcome for finally settling on common goals. Most of Japan, the world’s second biggest economy and host to about 50,000 U.S. military personnel, lies within range of North Korean missiles.

    Japan’s national broadcaster NHK quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda as calling the agreement a positive step but also saying the nations need to “keep a close eye” on North Korea as negotiations proceed. Hosoda also pressed for a resolution to a dispute about the kidnappings of Japanese nationals by North Korea, calling it a key to improved relations between the countries.

    Having to recognize the DPRK’s “sovereignty” in any formal way is galling, but it’s hardly a change from what we’ve been doing in practice. Of course, the DPRK is famous for reneging on agreements, so I’m with Hosoda on this one. We’ll see.


    Party of five

    Posted by Sean at 21:56, August 18th, 2005

    Why is it that the names of new political parties always sound so hard-socialist? The party just formed by several key Japan Post opponents, dropped by the LDP for their rebelliousness, will be called the 国民新党 (kokumin shintô: “citizens’ new party”).

    On the bright side, with so few members, everyone gets an executive post:

    Former House of Representatives Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki, who heads the party, made the announcement at a press conference held late afternoon.

    The new party comprises five members, including Shizuka Kamei, former chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, who spearheaded opposition to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal reform drive.

    Hisaoki Kamei, former National Land Agency director general, took the post of secretary general.

    House of Councillors member Kensei Hasegawa, another LDP member who defied party executives to vote against the postal bills, also joined the party.

    The four rebels left the LDP earlier in the day.

    Another upper house member, Hideaki Tamura, left the Democratic Party of Japan to join the new party.

    “We considered it inappropriate that the prime minister submitted the bills in a hasty and high-handed manner,” Watanuki said at the press conference.

    “We’re strongly resentful that LDP executives decided not to support the 37 party members who voted against the bills in the lower house, and to field rival candidates against the opponents,” he added.

    “I stood up [to form a new party] since I can’t just sit still and watch” the LDP executives’ strategy to field alternative candidates, Watanuki said. “We’d like to become the vanguards of preventing such backroom politics.”

    Backroom politics? There’s always some of that, of course. If anything, though, I think that most people’s perception was that Koizumi and his fellow travelers were so upfront about demanding loyalty without necessarily making it clear what Japan Post privatization was concretely going to accomplish.

    Prime Minister Koizumi, kami love him, did not mince words over the news:

    “I think it’s good for them to set up a new party to disseminate their policy, because unlike LDP members [Cold, man!–SRK], they’re against postal privatization,” Koizumi said at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo.

    But when asked about the possibility of postelection cooperation with the new party, he said, “As the LDP and New Komeito will win a majority, we can’t cooperate with people who are opposed to postal privatization.”

    The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party, has now posted its election platform. Japan Post is the issue that’s getting all the attention, but it shouldn’t be. There’s always a real possibility that the LDP coalition could lose. If so, here’s what we’re in for (drastically summarized and leaving out some bullet points entirely):

    Japan-US relations: The platform emphasizes that Japan’s important strategic relationship with the US does not make it a vassal state and that it retains its autonomy. It also asserts that based on changes in the Asian “strategic environment,” US military presence now in Okinawa should be first redistributed within and then moved out of Japan. It also wants Japanese law to be in effect at US military facilities and crime suspects to be turned over to the Japanese courts before being charged.

    The SDF: The platform states that the SDF should be restructured within two years to be able to cope with new threats such as cyberwarfare, ballistic missiles, and terrorism. It also goes out of its way to mention defense of various disputed island chains.

    The SDF deployment in Iraq: The DPJ proposes to bring back the non-combat SDF forces now in Iraq by December. The Japanese contribution to the reconstruction would take the form of ODA activity.

    The building of a relationship of mutual trust with the PRC: After this is achieved (I’d love to see the DPJ describe how), Japan and China can start to systematize their cooperation on things like energy consumption, currency valuation, maritime territory, and security.

    Relationships between Japan and the ROK or other Asian states: The platform proposes mostly free trade agreements, though it also mentions Japan’s role as a consultant on democratization, conservation, crime reduction, education, and energy policy.

    The DPRK: There’s no pretense to building a relationship of mutual trust here. The DPJ supports attempts to denuclearize North Korea through the ongoing 6-party talks. Regarding the issue of Japanese abductees, it proposes possible measures such as the blocking of entry into Japanese ports for DPRK-registered vessels. Also, with the number of refugees from the DPRK showing no sign of dropping off, the DPJ proposes increased maritime security.

    A global warming tax: ¥3000 per ton of CO2 emitted

    Social insurance: The operative slogan is “fair, transparent, and sustainable.” There’s quite a bit of detail here–it’s a big issue in Japan–but there are a few major proposals. The DPJ wants to consolidate the various pension systems to eliminate inequities, such as by eliminating the special pension system for Diet members and making them pay into the same black hole reservoir as the rest of us. Married couples would be regarded as paying into the same pension account and each be considered entitled to half. The national health service would be reformed to facilitate such exotica as seeking a second opinion. The unemployment system would make it easier for younger workers to get career counseling and assistance, and the labor laws would be brought more in line with international standards. This includes–you have to love Japan–compulsory interviews by physicians for workers with long shifts. This is presumably to make sure they don’t drop dead from overwork, which is no longer seen as a contribution to company and family honor.

    On farm, trade, and public works policy, the DPJ is generally opposed to privatization and the abolishment of subsidies; however, it does propose a decrease in the number of boondoggles (who doesn’t?) and support the spinning off of authority for the disbursement of funds to local governments.


    Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Canberra anymore

    Posted by Sean at 20:39, July 20th, 2005

    Re. US-Japan security ties, the Yomiuri reports that the Department of Defense has asked Japan to give us a heads-up if, say, the DPRK fires a missile at us:

    The United States, as part of its missile defense program, has asked the government to share any information obtained by advanced radar systems in Japan as soon as they detect a U.S.-targeted ballistic missile attack launched from such countries as North Korea, government sources said Tuesday.

    Any such missile launch would probably first be detected in Japan by an advanced early warning radar system known as FPS-XX.

    The next-generation high-performance radar system, which is in its final stage of development by the Defense Agency’s Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI), will be a pivotal component of the nation’s missile defense system scheduled to be deployed 2007.

    The government is set to accept the U.S. requests for assistance saying there would be no problem in sharing information in the event of a missile attack on the United States, the sources said.

    The pattern for new gizmos with “next generation” attached to them is one of delayed roll-outs and lots of debugging after release, in my experience. Nevertheless, despite its trouble launching rockets and satellites, Japan’s ground-based surveillance is very good.

    Ambassador Thomas Schieffer has also asked Japan to extend the deployment of SDF personnel in Iraq again:

    Schieffer told reporters at the National Press Club of Japan that it is Tokyo’s decision, but countries in the multinational force are expected to make tough choices to help establish democracy in Iraq.

    “We know that that was a threshold to cross for the Japanese government and the Japanese people. It is not an easy thing for them to be there,” Schieffer said.

    “But we think that their contribution is making a difference, and it is a contribution that they can proudly say they are making on behalf of the international community, and not because the United States is there,” he said.

    “All of us have to do things that we would prefer not to do from time to time,” he added.

    Schieffer’s comments came as Tokyo and Washington have begun working quietly on how to interpret U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 to allow an extension beyond the Dec. 14 expiry stipulated under the basic dispatch plan approved last year by the Cabinet.

    With the brouhaha over Japan Post reform, other issues before the Diet and cabinet aren’t really getting much play in the news here. It seems unlikely that Koizumi will be inclined to pull out early.

    I still don’t really know what to make of Schieffer. He’s far less a media presence here than Howard Baker was. Not that the old ambassador was all over the society pages, or anything, but he was quoted very regularly in news reports. Schieffer is much quieter. Perhaps he’s getting his bearings–he’s not a really seasoned politician as Baker was. Or perhaps he simply finds it politic to shut up, given the topics there are to opine on lately: anti-Japan sentiment in China, friction over politicans’ pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s push for permanent UN Security Council membership. These aren’t exactly easy shoals to navigate, and Schieffer has only been on duty here since April.