South Korea’s Defense Ministry on May 20 formally charged North Korea with the attack on a South Korean Navy ship that killed 46 sailors—in the face of angry denials from Pyongyang, including a threat of “all-out war” if the South responds militarily. An official South Korean study found the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in the March incident in waters near the intra-Korean border. (CSM, May 20; JoongAng Daily, May 18)
The same day the findings were issued, Japanese reported that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has decided to reverse himself and accept nearly all of Washington’s demands that he honor a 2006 agreement to relocate a US base on Okinawa, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, to another site on the island. Local activists want the base off the island altogether.
The reports said that the only significant departure from the 2006 accord would be a vague call to move some Marine training exercises off Okinawa, in what appears to be a largely symbolic gesture to lighten the island’s military burden. (NYT, May 20)
The Guardian states that Japan has been “diplomatically wrongfooted” by the Cheonan incident. Foreign Minister Takeshi Okada said: “I want to explain frankly to the Japanese people that the presence of US troops in Japan is indispensable to Japan’s security and to the peace and stability of the region in the current security environment.” Referring to the Cheonan sinking, he added: “We need to be aware this could happen to us. There is no guarantee it won’t happen to Japan.”
Hatoyama has seen support for his administration plummet amid mounting criticism of his handling of the Futenma relocation. Having vowed during last summer’s elections to move the base off Okinawa, he recently angered local residents when he conceded it would be impossible to fulfill his promise. (The Guardian, May 21)