Three mayors of a tiny Japanese island told Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama they are unwilling to host U.S. troops to help resolve a political dispute that has dogged his eight-month administration.
Hatoyama is considering moving part of a U.S. Marine facility to Tokushima, an island of 26,000 people, from nearby Okinawa, where residents have staged protests against relocating the Futenma Air Base on the island.
“The public is absolutely opposed,” Akira Okubo, one of the three mayors, told Hatoyama at the beginning of a meeting today in Tokyo. “Please understand the public will is for no facility whatsoever and that definitely won’t change.”
Public support for Hatoyama has plummeted because of his inability to resolve the dispute, prompting calls within the ruling party for him to come up with a solution or step down. His approval rating fell 12.3 percentage points to 20.7 percent from the previous month, according to a Kyodo News survey conducted April 28 and 29. More than half of respondents said Hatoyama should resign unless he resolves the Futenma issue by the end of May.
Okubo, Kosuke Ohisa and Hideki Takaoka handed Hatoyama a petition signed by a majority of Tokunoshima’s population. The three men emphasized that 15,000 people rallied on the island last month against accepting the base.
The response, while expected by the government, further complicates Hatoyama’s aim to resolve an issue that has damaged U.S. ties by the end of the month. He told Okinawa residents three days ago he can’t fulfill a pledge to move all of the facility off of the island, signaling he will yield to U.S. pressure and transfer it to a less populated area.
“I’d be very grateful if you can accept a part of Futenma’s functions to ease the burden of Okinawa’s residents,” Hatoyama told the mayors. “I understand it’s not easy.”
The U.S. and Japan agreed in 2006 to move the base within Okinawa as part of a $10.3 billion plan that would also transfer 8,000 Marines to the U.S. territory of Guam. Okinawa hosts 75 percent of the U.S. bases and more than half of the 50,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.
Hatoyama will travel to Okinawa for a second time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said today, without disclosing a date.