A crime occurred 12 years ago that seriously damages US-Japanese relations.
Two US Marines and a Navy seaman stationed in Okinawa kidnapped and raped a 12 year old girl in 1995. They were convicted and sentenced to serve time in Japanese jails. I suppose the Marines and Navy had their own version of punishment waiting when the guilty were released from foreign prison.
Rallies were organized to protest the continued US military presence on Japanese soil. Things became particularly tense on Okinawa, where the majority of the US military is based. The governor of the island at the time, Masahide Ota, stated that all US bases should be closed no later than 2015, saying the “Okinawa is ours!”
That all became kind of moot a few years later when North Korea, one of the last of the truly despicable and dangerous Communist regimes on the planet, test fired a missile that soared all the way over Japan to splash down in the sea on the other side.
You didn’t have to be a (heh) rocket scientist to figure this one out. NK wanted the Japanese to know that they could attack their cities at any time, and with impunity.
Suddenly having some American military muscle on hand to counter Communist aggression didn’t seem to be all that bad! Nothing like a remnant of Cold War tensions to clarify who your real buddies were. The most that ever came from all the sturm and drang was an agreement to move the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to a more remote location, and that hasn’t happened after more than a decade.
Now a similar incident is causing the resurgence of the same old problems. This time around, a single Marine is accused of raping a 14 year old schoolgirl when he gave her a ride home.
The current Prime Minister of Japan, Yasuo Fukuda, has publicly stated that “It has happened over and over again in the past and I take it as a grave case.” He has also said that such sexual crimes ” …can never be forgiven!”
A crime most definitely occurred since the accused Marine admitted to forcing the girl to kiss him, and now it is merely a matter of determining the damage caused and the severity of the punishment. But I’m wondering about the “..happened over and over again in the past…” part of the Prime Minister’s statement. Near as I can tell, he is referring to the 1995 case. Seems a bit overwrought to me to refer to a case that was closed more than a decade ago as something that happened “…over and over again…”, but I suppose it all dovetails neatly into his claim that such crimes can never be forgiven.
So the current Prime Minister is beating the anti-American drum while public sentiment once again turns against a continued American military presence on the islands. Does this mean that the US will be forced to seriously reduce the number of bases and troops on the islands?
Almost certainly not. Now that North Korea has at least extremely crude fission bombs, the threat from the old missile test back in 1998 becomes much more serious. Added to that is the fact that China is upgrading and expanding their own military, which certainly ratchets up the tension even more. Japan doesn’t have the military muscle to protect itself against even one of these potential foes, let alone both. They need the US to act as both a deterrent, and for combat power if relations between Japan and the two Communist states deteriorate.
Japan certainly has the ability to build up their own military to the point that they would not need to rely on the US for their security, and there have already been indications that the government there has been at least laying the groundwork in case such a move becomes necessary. But it usually takes decades of very serious effort to create the world class armed forces that Japan would need, and that doesn’t appear to be happening. Until it does, I just don’t see much changing.
As far as the current crisis is concerned, it seems to be a tempest in a teapot. Japanese politicians will talk trash against the US to bolster their approval ratings, one or two minor concessions will be granted by the US so fas as base location or size is concerned, and a whole lot of not much will happen.
Maybe they will finally get around to moving the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)