Obama Embarks on Delicate Mission; Tension over U.S. Military Bases Strains Relations with Japanese
Byline: Matthew Mosk and Takehiko Kambayashi, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
TOKYO -- President Obama's arrival here Friday will mark the latest in a series of diplomatic overtures intended to improve relations with a country his administration considers a critical U.S. ally for both economic and military reasons.
But Mr. Obama's already delicate job became that much harder when speculation surfaced this week that an American was at fault in a recent hit-and-run accident that killed a 66-year-old Okinawa man. Thousands participated in recent protests against the American military bases on the island, and more are expected to rally during the president's two-day visit, the first stop on Mr. Obama's first Asian tour as president.
We all know the United States is a country where human rights are respected. But on this tiny island, Americans trample on our human rights, said Koichi Makishi, a local architect and longtime anti-base activist in Okinawa. President Obama has been very popular in Japan, so we have very big expectations of him. Unlike his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, we believe President Obama will listen to us.
While personally popular in Japan, the president's arrival comes as tensions have once again flared over the United States' military presence on Okinawa. And despite Mr. Makishi's expectations, the American president is not likely to say anything that will allay his, or his country's, concerns.
The American military has increasingly come to value the prime island real estate, even as the presence of 50,000 service personnel throughout the country has proven a persistent thorn for many Japanese. What started as an irritant to Okinawa locals - noise from jets and helicopters, unruly behavior by Americans wandering off base - grew into a full-fledged crisis in 1995 when three servicemen brutally raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl.
The episode forced a lengthy renegotiation of the American presence on the island and, eventually, led to a 2006 agreement to relocate a Marine helicopter base to an offshore facility and the relocation of some 8,000 Marines to Guam. The Japanese in turn agreed to pay more than $6 billion of the $10 billion moving costs.
But new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan campaigned on a promise to alleviate the burden created by the U.S. installations, and have expressed a desire to renegotiate the 2006 agreement in order to force the Americans to move the Marine air base.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates delivered the initial U.S. reaction to Mr. Hatoyama's position, and it did not go over well in Japan. …