Japan defense minister censured for subordinate's comments on Futenma issue
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Japan’s Diet passed a censure motion Friday against embattled Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa following a recent gaffe by a subordinate over the relocation of Futenma Air Station on Okinawa.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would not remove Ichikawa from his post despite the censure, but it was unclear Friday whether the defense minister would step down.
The parliamentary vote was a harsh rebuke of Ichikawa’s performance after just three months on the job and another sign of the political volatility caused by the U.S.-Japan plan to keep the Marine Corps base in the country’s southernmost prefecture.
Last month, a Japan defense bureau chief in Okinawa reportedly compared Tokyo’s plans to push forward with relocating the air station with rape, calling up memories of a 1995 gang rape of an elementary school student by U.S. servicemembers on the island. The comments have grown into a major political scandal for Ichikawa over the past two weeks.
Satoshi Tanaka allegedly made the rape comments during an off-the-record discussion with Okinawa newspaper reporters about when Tokyo will submit a crucial environmental study of the Futenma relocation to Okinawa leaders. Tanaka was removed from his post on Okinawa in November, has now been suspended from his current job at the Defense Ministry, Ichikawa said during a news conference Friday.
Ichikawa also offered to return his pay as defense minister to make amends for the incident.
Japan has vowed to the United States that it will finally move forward with the stalled Futenma project by completing the environmental assessment by the end of the year, a pledge that requires review of the plan by staunch opponents in the Okinawa government.
“Would you say, ‘I will rape you,’ before you rape someone?” Tanaka said in response to reporter questions, according to the Ryuku Shimpo newspaper.
On Labor Day in 1995, three U.S. servicemembers abducted and raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl in a rental van. The case sparked deep outrage and eventually led to the plan to drastically reduce the military presence on the island.
Outrage over the bureau chief’s comments was compounded by Ichikawa, who publicly admitted he did not know the details of the 1995 rape.