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Okinawa: The U.S. Marine base stays

Has Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama just signed a political suicide note?

“I decided that it is of utmost importance that we place the Japan-U.S. relationship on a solid relationship of mutual trust, considering the current situation in the Korean peninsula and in
Asia,'' he said.

Hatoyama’s acceptance of the original deal should lead to the transfer of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 in a $10 billion move to reduce the U.S. military footprint on Okinawa. Although it accounts for a tiny fraction of Japan’s land area, the island hosts 75 percent of U.S. military bases and about half of its 50,000 troops.

But the perception that Hatoyama has badly mishandled the issue could have serious political repercussions, and even force his resignation in coming weeks.

The leader of the left-wing Social Democratic party, a junior partner in Hatoyama’s government, has threatened to leave the coalition, while recent opinion polls suggest voters are preparing to punish him during upper house elections in July.

Tobias Harris, a U.S.-based Japan expert, believes the damage to the Hatoyama administration has already been done, “because the damage to the government's reputation had less to do with the substance of the realignment plan — about which the public is divided — than with the
government's gross incompetence in its handling of the issue.”

“Despite its persistent efforts to remind the public that all options were on the table, I wonder whether the public will see the government's actions as anything but capitulation after months of dithering,” wrote Harris on his Observing Japan blog.