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Report on the US Tour by the Mayor of Nago City

Remembering Nago Mayoral visit to the US

Sayo Saruta, Director, New Diplomacy Initiative

 

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine visited New York and Washington D.C. between May 15th and 24th in 2014, and appealed for the broader objection of  the planned relocation of Futemma Air Station .New Diplomacy Initiative (ND), helped coordinate the mission and attended the tour. I would like to post three of my reports issued in the Okinawa Times between June 5th and 7thin 2014.

 

Click here for the video of the briefing of June 18th

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ND has spent almost 4 months preparing for this mission.  It encompassed 48 events, to include  meetings with officials of the US government, members of Congress, think tanks, and  debates at the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution . In order to realize the Mayor’s determination to convey his message to citizens of the United States, we have also held 13 press meetings and 4 public lectures.

 

More than 250 US officials attended the meetings throughout our mission, attracting broad media attention, including detailed coverage by the New York Times and Bloomberg News. However, it was unfortunate that our counterparts at the State and Defense Departments were not in Washington D.C. at the time. But the Deputy Director of the Office of Japan at the State Department, attended the meeting, representing the US side.

 

Many Americans are not well-informed about the Okinawan base issue. Voices of Okinawans rarely reach policy makers in Washington. As Dr. Richard C. Bush III, Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, points out, “such events are important to remind us that there are such voices.”

 

Mr. Steve Clemmons, Editor of the Atlantic, who opposes the relocation of Futemma to Henoko said to me 3 years ago, “I no longer wish to see visitors from Okinawa. Their visits always focus on how their tours would be reported in Okinawa.”

 

It is true that media attention in Okinawa is important.  Likewise, a visit to the US should maximize the opportunity to convey our message, and the mission of ND is to help realize it under given conditions.

 

For 5 years, I helped the lawmakers representing Okinawa, by lobbying and visiting  Washington D.C., the city where I lived until 2 years ago. I had the opportunity to glance at Japan and US diplomacy, regarding  the need for the Futemma Air Base to be relocated outside of Okinawa. This was an area, where even the Japanese Prime Minister’s voice had no chance to reach diplomatic channels. It was obvious that diplomatic channels between the two countries had to be broadened. So when my acquaintances in Okinawa asked me to help convey their message to the US that was when I started lobbying in Washington. Along with support from my 3rd generation Okinawan husband, our activity at ND started in August 2013. Our work involves collecting and conveying information on global politics, diplomacy, as well as providing policy suggestions across the globe. We are working with the City of Nago, a member of ND, on this issue.

 

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When coordinating US visits, we carefully study lecture and meeting schedules. Our goal is to communicate with as many people as possible in both countries, to promote our ideas and to gather as much support to help create a meaningful mission. Our missions have received much media attention, thanks to the support from our many friends and colleagues. Without their support, lectures at think tanks and round table discussions would not have been possible. Even our public lectures could not have been held without the support from our many volunteer workers. I believe this support and continuity in our efforts makes this mission more successful and meaningful.

 

There are generally three groups of people who could influence US-Japan relations. They are the US  State Department, members of Congress and researchers at think tanks. Some members of think tanks are former government officials and experts on the region. They influence  US diplomatic policies, both directly and indirectly, through their reports, meetings with government officials, and sometimes by becoming part of the government itself. Members of Congress have strong influence through their power to make budgets, but they generally have less interests in issues involving Japan.

 

Meetings will be held with all three groups. We always spend our utmost efforts trying to contact Members of Congress and their aides. We utilize every communication tool we have, using e-mail, telephones, as well as last-minute visits to their offices, to actualize meetings. Members of Congress receive countless inquiries for meetings, making it extraordinarily difficult to make an appointment with them, even for a lawmaker from Japan, representing Okinawa for example.

 

Things have changed since ND coordinated a mayoral visit to the US two years ago. Our mission at this time focused on Prime Minister Abe’s nationalistic diplomacy. The issues of the Senkaku islands, Japan’s historic textbook controversy, and the issues over Japan’s rights to collective self-defense, received the majority of the attention. Some even said, “no one would touch on issues over US bases in Okinawa.” I felt exasperated, seeing that so many people lost interests in the issue, before it is solved. However, I am still determined to put our utmost efforts to work on the issue of Okinawa.

 

Many US experts on Japan are cautious about relocating the Futemma Air Base to Henoko. This includes  retired Colonel James Jones, who served as a Presidential aide, and former Senator Jim Webb. Both have  reiterated their opposition to the plan. Former deputy State Secretary Richard Armitage, who could not attend our meetings, is calling for a review of the planned relocation. We will continue to work with people opposing the relocation of Futenma Air Base to Henoko, enhance their voices, and seek ways to create flexible viewpoints from both governments.

 

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Continuous efforts are essential to approaching people in Washington. The makeup of Congress is in constant flux and many new members are not interested in the issue. Lawmakers and officials representing Okinawa have symbolic significance in the issue, but their visits are not frequent enough due to the limited opportunity of meetings and debates with US lawmakers. Continuous efforts should be carried out in Washington D.C., by closely monitoring Congress and the policy making process there, assessing the bills and budgets discussed, to inform us how to best approach them.

 

There are lots of counterparts in Congress to approach, however, media attention tends to focus on the ranks and titles of the attendees of a meeting. In Congress alone, members of the Armed Services, Appropriations, and Foreign Relations Committees’ are our most important counterparts. But it is equally important to work on gaining the attention from a broader range of members of Congress, including those sharing views on environmental protection and human rights.

 

We have yet to reinforce our guidelines on approaching members of the US Congress. But it is essential for us to find more partners, including Presidential aides and advisors, who share common grounds with our philosophy.

 

We also should put more efforts to use the same “language” as our counterparts. People in Washington tend to debate issues from the viewpoint of defense strategy. Human stories and mere pacifism will not draw attention, especially when they are presented without concrete strategy. Debating over whether the presence of the USMC in Okinawa is essential for the peace and stability of the region, should not be avoided. On the other hand, stories of individuals have greatly shaped the history of the United States. We should always remember that great many citizens cooperate with us. Keeping that in mind, we should carefully assess the situation and choose our language accordingly.

 

And above all, people who truly represent the voices of Okinawa should permanently be stationed in Washington, to continuously build up the network over the issue.It is important to remember that many Americans point out that the US government will listen, only if the Japanese government officially turns down the relocation plan to Henoko. As former Colonel Jones said, “it requires change in the Japanese government” thus we should also work domestically to further resolve the issue.

 

With that in mind, it could also be effective for us to work on Japanese policy making with the help of voices from Washington D.C.. Many politicians, who are in favor for changing the laws regarding the right to collective self-defense forces, travel from Japan to the US seeking the “recognition” from experts on issues in Japan. They draw much attention from the Japanese media and have influence on the Japanese government. We should also make use of this “loud-speaker effects” of Washington to increase our influence.