Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Numbers Against the Move to Henoko

It is fourth day of January, the first work day of the New Year, if only for a few more minutes here in Tokyo. Americans, being the dire workaholics that they are, would normally had been hard at work from the second day of the year on. That the second day of the New Year fell on a Saturday meant that the residents of this blessed land were able to steal a march on the denizens of the U.S. of A., getting a full day’s work done on Monday the 4th before most of the Americans even got up in the morning.

So perhaps rather than being forced, as in most years, into playing catch up from the outset, the Government of Japan has taken the opportunity to try to get the Americans to understand that The Relationship (capital T, capital R) is not in crisis.

When we left off at the end of 2009, the situation for The Relationship was looking pretty grim:
Japan pressed on Futenma
The Japan Times

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki to the State Department on Monday for an unscheduled meeting. She reportedly called for Japan to promptly implement the 2006 bilateral accord to move the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the central part of Okinawa Island to Henoko in the island's north.

Ms. Clinton's unusual move is a clear indication of U.S. frustration with the Hatoyama administration's decision to postpone until some time next year a resolution of the Futenma issue and to seek additional candidate sites for the relocation...
”Unusual” is hardly sufficient as a description for summoning an ambassador of a peaceful and unfailingly polite ally to Foggy Bottom to read him the Riot Act on a day when the U.S. capital is shut down due to snow.

One has to wonder what the Secretary of State thought was the tactical or strategic advantage she was exploiting to achieve her desired outcome. One certainly hopes it is not a belief that Prime Minister Hatoyama is vulnerable and support for the DPJ weak, offering an opening for the U.S. to exert pressure in order to seal the Futenma-to-Henoko deal. Rising public upset with Hatoyama, as measured in the public opinion poll results, has been more over the style of his leadership rather than his party's platform. The public particularly dislikes the prime minister's inability to appear either in control or at peace with himself. They are annoyed also at his constant reiteration of the bromide that the prime minister should be a final arbiter, as if a job description were a salve for what has been his inability to articulate his approach to finding workable solutions to the nation's problems.

Nevertheless, Hatoyama is far from finished and the more compliant Liberal Democratic Party far from mounting a comeback. It needs to be remembered that support for the Cabinet hovers at around the 50% mark – at a time when the Prime Minister’s former subordinates are under indictment for using the safe in the Hatoyama political office for what can be argued is the modern world’s most achingly sad attempt at the laundering of political donations.

The public of course also hates some of the Hatoyama government's policies. Refreshingly, however, they tend to be the really dumb campaign promises (the elimination of tolls on the nation's expressways, for example) that no really one expected a DPJ-led government to enact anyway, as they contradict the general philosophy underlying the Democratic Party of Japan's manifesto. The voters are quite able to discern guiding principles from out of a mass of noise...and they are also aware that politics and public finance require tradeoffs and sacrifice.

A reconsideration of Japan-U.S. accord on Futenma, however, is not one of the government policies the public finds objectionable. Indeed no matter whether the poll is conducted by an ostensibly liberal or conservative organization, poll takers find a public that is overwhelmingly in favor of the Hatoyama government's basic stance, if not in its scattershot tactics.

[In the below, the most recent poll results are in bold. Results from earlier polls are in (). All numbers are percentages.]

From the Asahi Shimbun, a center-left, salaried worker oriented newspaper
Re: Hatoyama

"Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?"
- Support 48 (62)
- Do not support 34 (21)

Re: Okinawa/Futenma

"Do you value the way the Hatoyama Cabinet has handled the Futenma issue?

- Appreciate it 30
- Don't appreciate it 60

From the Mainichi Shimbun, a center-right, working-class oriented newspaper

Re: Hatoyama

"Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?"
- Support 55 (64)
- Do not support 34 (21)
- Don't have any particular position 12(15)

Re: Okinawa/Futenma

"How should Prime Minister Hatoyama respond to the problem over the transfer of elements of the Futenma Marine Air Station? Please pick the answer that most closely corresponds to your feelings.

- The prime minister should have discussions with the Americans on moving the Futenma base elements either out of Okinawa or out of Japan 51% (50%)
- The prime minister should seek another site inside Okinawa Prefecture 15% (17%)
- He should accept the current Futenma-to-Henoko plan 25% (22%)

From the Sankei Shimbun/FNN, a decidedly anti-DPJ, anti-Hatoyama Cabinet media group
Re: Hatoyama

"Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?"
- Support 51.0 (62.5)
- Do not support 40.4 (22.9)
- Don't know 8.6 (14.6)

Re: Okinawa/Futenma

"In terms of the problem of the transfer of elements of the Futenma Marine Air Station, what should the government be emphasizing most?

- Quickly moving to implement the Japan-U.S. agreement as written 28.3
- Reinvestigating whether or not the base can be relocated either inside Okinawa or outside, even if this takes time 43.4
- Definitely moving the base outside of Okinawa, even if this takes time 23.8
- Don't know 3.6

What should be the element of the Futenma problem the government should care about most?

- The Japan-U.S. relationship 38.5
- What the people of Okinawa think 55.8
- What the other parties in the ruling coalition are thinking 2.1
- Don't know 3.6

Those are the numbers -- after repeated strong U.S. messages in favor of the implementation of the 2006 accord and a lockstep media storm warning that a failure to implement the 2006 accord could fracture the close Japan-U.S. security alliance. The public's view of the Futenma-to-Henoko agreement has so far not budged -- and over two thirds of the electorate believes that move to Henoko is just wrong.

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