DPJ POLITICS IN REVIEW: Hatoyama’s fiasco on Futenma sparked decline of party

November 19, 2012


Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama started his election campaign by apologizing for breaking a promise, the first of many idealistic policy goals that have crumbled during his party’s three years in power.

“I not only failed to realize the wishes of the Japanese people and Okinawans but also made a blunder by allowing the relocation site to return to Henoko,” he told an inaugural meeting of his election office in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, on Nov. 17.

He was referring to his promise to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside Okinawa Prefecture. Hatoyama’s broken vow started a rapid erosion of voter confidence in the DPJ.

And his words to U.S. President Barack Obama on the Futenma issue--“Trust me”--have since been used even within the DPJ as symbolizing the failure of the party’s political leadership.

Emphasizing “trust” in a new government and promising to change the way Japan operates, the DPJ seized power in the Lower House election in August 2009, ending the Liberal Democratic Party’s almost uninterrupted rule over the postwar decades.

Shortly before the victory, Hatoyama said the best option would be to relocate Futenma abroad. He promised to move the military facility “at least” outside Okinawa Prefecture.

At that time, the DPJ was trying to differentiate itself from the LDP, which has given top priority to relations with the United States. The DPJ’s campaign manifesto called for a Japan-U.S. alliance on an equal footing and an independent foreign policy.

Hatoyama himself said the DPJ would emphasize diplomacy not only with the United States but also with Asia.

Okinawans were opposed to a 2006 Japan-U.S. agreement to relocate the Futenma air station in Ginowan to Henoko Point in Nago, also in the prefecture. It was another example of what they said was the unfair burden placed on the tiny prefecture to maintain the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

Hatoyama’s promise raised hopes in Okinawa Prefecture that their decades-long predicament would finally begin to change.

But shortly after Hatoyama took over as prime minister, objections surfaced within his administration over the Futenma pledge.

His defense minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, said the option to relocate Futenma outside Okinawa was difficult. His foreign minister, Katsuya Okada, said moving the facility outside the prefecture was “inconceivable.”

His “trust me” comment to Obama when the U.S. president visited Japan in November 2009 only added to the confusion.

U.S. officials took Hatoyama’s words to mean he intended to relocate Futenma to Henoko in accordance with the Japan-U.S. agreement.

But Hatoyama continued to look for an alternative site.

Okada considered integrating the Marine installation with the U.S. Kadena Air Base, also in Okinawa Prefecture. Hatoyama suggested transferring the facility to Guam. Kitazawa opposed both ideas, however.

In April 2010, Hatoyama told his Cabinet ministers to consider transferring the facility to Tokunoshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture, setting the end of May as a deadline.

Again, the plan fell through, and Hatoyama eventually accepted the original agreement to relocate the Futenma air station to Henoko.

In May 2010, after trying the patience of both Okinawa Prefecture and the U.S. government, Hatoyama retracted his election promise, saying, “As I learned, I understood that deterrence has been maintained by all U.S. forces in Okinawa Prefecture working together.”

He apologized to Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima for failing to deliver on his vow.

Hatoyama’s ideal goal proved an elusive dream. The DPJ’s boasts of “political leadership” lost their luster, and the Hatoyama Cabinet’s support rate plunged to 17 percent, from 71 percent shortly after it was formed.

Hatoyama was forced to resign after nine months in office. Since then, the ruling party has undergone two leadership changes, switched policies and seen a number of defections.

In Okinawa Prefecture, protests over the Futenma relocation have expanded with the recent deployment of the U.S. Osprey transport aircraft and a series of crimes by U.S. military personnel.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would dissolve the Lower House during a Diet debate with LDP President Shinzo Abe on Nov. 14, setting up a snap election on Dec. 16.

Noda mentioned Hatoyama’s words when emphasizing his intention to respect his earlier promise to dissolve the Lower House “in the near future.”

“Unfortunately, people apparently do not believe me because the words ‘trust me’ do not carry as much weight as they used to,” Noda said.

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Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's infamous words "trust me" came during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo in November 2009. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's infamous words "trust me" came during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo in November 2009. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's infamous words "trust me" came during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo in November 2009. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • The Asahi Shimbun

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