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"Still Hopeful for the Future of the Nation" - as contributed to The Diplomat

This is an unedited original draft version of the article contributed to the Tokyo Notes blog of The Diplomat. For the professionally edited version of the article. Click the title. For a complete super-translated Japanese version, click here.

In just a couple of days, the Hatoyama Administration will officially announce the content of its agreement with the United States government: a new agreement on the relocation of the “dangerous” aerial operations from the increasingly controversial U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station site, which could also affect the U.S. plans to relocate 8,500 additional Marines and 9,000 dependents off to the Guam according to the existing agreement signed in 2006.

Media reports as well as the second visit to Okinawa by Prime Minister Hatoyama last Sunday indicate that the potential new location of the U.S. Marines would be in the "vicinity" of Henoko area of Nago City, where "there is not an overwhelming support" to accept the construction of a new base, according to Dr. Sheila. A. Smith, Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations.

In the follow-up interview to Dr. Smith’s official blog entry at the CFR website that captured the eyes of many 'hopeful' Japanese, TV Asahi's news show Hodo Station re-captured the 'hope' that was instilled by her blog entry; a hope that Prime Minister Hatoyama and his counterpart in Washington is seeking to reach a compromise, which in Smith's words would "allow U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be shut down."

People in Japan who supports the Hatoyama Administration are still hopeful that the relatively young DPJ administration will somehow re-negotiate with the U.S. government a deal that will redeem the sense of national pride, as well as local pride of the Okinawans. Their hopes reside in the possibility that the government may be negotiating with the Obama Administration on a future plan to relocate the entire Marine forces out of the national territory of Japan.

Accompanied by the deep recognition of clear changes in the “political dynamic of Okinawa,” Dr. Smith's recent interview, as well as these words on her blog, reaffirms this sense of hope.

"Okinawa should not be asked to bear the full burden of the U.S.-Japan alliance, and Japan’s Prime Minister will need to move operations of U.S. forces off-island."

Although Dr. Smith is clearly not asking the American side but the Japan side to consider the need to move the operations off the island of Okinawa, such a remark coming from one of the prominent policymaking brains of the Obama Administration brings strong hope to the Japanese people. And this hope is not without a cause.

A few DPJ members and the coalition partners in the government have been active in bringing this cause into national focus. Led by DPJ Representative Hiroshi Kawauchi, a group of multi-party policymakers recently made a trip to the U.S. territory of Marianas as well as Guam to seek possible acceptance of the relocation of U.S. Marines in Okinawa to their territories.

The governors of CNMI (Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands) and Guam, reportedly accepted the offer and even embarked on their own attempt to meet Prime Minister Hatoyama in person, though it ended unsuccessful. The governors had their reasons to support the Japanese policymaker's initiative, especially in order to bring Japan to its aid in taking a hold of the funds in which their access is forbidden by the U.S. federal government. The strong conviction of Guam's Governor Felix P. Camacho was indicated in his letter to Prime Minister (PDF) which was immediately made available on the web.

Last month, the both houses of the CNMI legislature also showed its support by unanimously adopting a resolution which "encourages the U.S. Department of Defense and Japanese officials to consider Tinian as the “best location” to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma in Ginowan in the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan." (House, Senate)

Critics to these initiatives argue that neither Guam nor the Tinian islands have the capacity to accept in entirety the infusion of over 8,000 U.S. Marines and its 9,000 dependants, and cite the now famous draft military report or DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) that points out the fact that the Tinian islands in particular has been taken off the list of possible relocation sites, precisely due to its capacity, poor infrastructure, and inadequacy for a full-fledged military use except for training purposes. However, local reaction to this is,  "NO, WE CAN."

Many people of the islands in both sides of the Pacific, in Japan and in the Marianas, still hold onto the hope until the very last day that the U.S. and Japanese government will eventually come to an agreement that hosting the vast majority of U.S. forces in Okinawa on a permanent or even semi-permanent basis, is no longer a realistic policy option.

As CFR's Dr. Smith has pointed out in her "reality check" article, the two alliance partners must come to terms with the new reality, that the focus of the issue has changed. That the issue is not how feasible Japan's alternatives are to the U.S. demands, but to adapt to the changed reality of a respected alliance partner.

"It is time to recognize the need for Tokyo and Washington to make some very hard choices."

And as Sen. Kunioka Tanioka (DPJ) remarked on her recent visit to Washington , it is now Washington's turn to come to terms with the reality, and tackle the problem as ‘their’ problem.

"It seems to us Japanese that Obama is saying ‘You do it, you solve, it's your problem,'"

It 's now time for both sides of the alliance to acquiesce and acknowledge that it is ‘our’ problem; that to sustain the alliance, they both need to come to terms with the new political reality. The Japanese people still holds high hope in the culmination of the talks, not only for the Okinawans, but for the future of the sovereign nation of Japan as well.

Written by Etranger

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