US and Japan Are in Talks to Expedite Exit of 8,000 Marines on Okinawa
February 10, 2012
The New York Times & The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan and the US said Wednesday that they are renegotiating a 2006 agreement to expedite the removal of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa. Their departure has been stalled until progress is made on relocating an important Marine air station on the island, a chronic point of friction. The transfer of marines to Guam will be scaled down from 8,000 to about 4,700. Other marines will be transferred elsewhere, such as Hawaii, eventually cutting the number of marines to about 10,000.
US and Japan Are in Talks to Expedite Exit of 8,000 Marines on Okinawa
Martin Fackler / New York Times
TOKYO (February 8, 2012) -- Japan and the United States said Wednesday that they were renegotiating a 2006 agreement in order to expedite the removal of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa. Under the current terms, their departure has been stalled until progress is made on relocating an important Marine air station on the island, a chronic underlying irritant in relations between the two countries.
Both sides have agreed to rework part of the agreement that makes relocation of the air station, the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a precondition for moving the Marines, who along with their dependents were supposed to be transferred to Guam by 2014.
The large Marine contingent on Okinawa, a vestige of the American occupation of postwar Japan, has long been resented by the island's residents, and many Okinawans want the Futenma air station closed, not merely relocated. The requirement that the Marine presence cannot be reduced without progress on the air station has effectively frozen the entire deal.
"We decided to reduce Okinawa's burden as much as possible rather than remain stuck in a stalemate by adhering to the earlier package," Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, told reporters. "America is also committed, but Japan must take the lead in resolving this issue."
In a separate statement from the Pentagon, George Little, a Defense Department spokesman, said that by agreeing to delink the Marine removal from the air station relocation, negotiators from both sides can "make progress on each effort separately, yet we remain fully and equally committed to both efforts."
The United States would keep a substantial military footprint on Okinawa even after the air station was relocated and the 8,000 Marines were removed. The island would still be host to 10,000 other Marines as well as the Air Force's Kadena Air Base, the largest United States airfield in the Asia-Pacific region.
Still, by decoupling the removal of the Marines from the more contentious Futenma air station issue, Mr. Gemba said his government hoped to finally begin reducing the military burden on Okinawa, and assuaging the anger of Okinawan voters.
He said he did not yet have a timeframe for when the Marines would leave, though he said it would be "soon." Analysts said the transfer would probably take longer than the 2014 deadline of the current agreement, which was originally reached in 1996 after the gang rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by American servicemen.
Mr. Gemba said Japan had taken the initiative in proposing Wednesday's plan out of a sense of responsibility for the delays, suggesting that they were due to Tokyo's inability to persuade Okinawans to accept a new Marine air base. He said he hoped to end a festering problem that had threatened to cause a rift with the United States, Japan's postwar protector with 50,000 military personnel in Japan. Those fears were reinforced in December, when the United States Congress, under pressure to cut the fiscal deficit, voted to cut $150 million from the 2012 budget to pay for the transfer to Guam.
"I don't think it was healthy for the Americans and the Japanese to always be talking about needing to show progress by a certain time because of the situation in the American Congress," Mr. Gemba said.
Mr. Gemba was vague on where the Marines would go under the renegotiated agreement, besides saying that a large number of them would relocate as originally planned to Guam, an American territory in the western Pacific Ocean. The original agreement had called for moving all the 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam, but recent Japanese news media reports have said 4,700 may go to Guam, with the rest rotated through other American bases in the region.
He was also vague on who would pay for the new realignment plan, a crucial question as both Tokyo and Washington try to cut fiscal deficits. Under the previous agreement, Japan was to pay 60 percent of the $10.3 billion cost to relocate the Marines to Guam, according to Japan's Ministry of Defense.
"I think this will be a big step forward," Mr. Gemba said. "We are working hard to regain even a bit of the trust of the people of Okinawa."
That trust was lost two years ago, when Yukio Hatoyama, then prime minister, reneged on a campaign promise to move the Futenma base off the island. The resulting feelings of angry betrayal on the island have been so intense that most analysts and politicians now agree that the Futenma relocation plan is effectively dead.
Under that plan, the base would have been moved from its current location in a crowded urban area to a safer spot on Okinawa's less populated north. The United States says it needs the new base to maintain its ability to respond quickly to a crisis in the region even with the reduction in the number of Marines.
Political analysts said those concerns also resonated with the government of Japan's current prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who is seeking to maintain close ties to the United States at a time when Japan feels increasing anxiety about China's military expansion.
"The Noda government has come to the conclusion that the US-Japan security alliance is too important to be deadlocked by a single base," said Yuichi Hosoya, a specialist on international affairs at Keio University in Tokyo.
Mr. Hosoya and other analysts also said Wednesday's proposal could ultimately help resolve the deadlock over the Futenma base. After the 8,000 Marines leave, the United States would turn over to Japan a half-dozen military installations that it will vacate on the island's more heavily developed southern half. Analysts said the return of this land, which accounts for about a fifth of all land on Okinawa occupied by the United States military, could soften opposition to a new air base by showing Okinawans tangible progress in reducing the American presence.
"The Noda government realized it must do something to show its willingness to reduce the burden of Okinawa," Mr. Hosoya said. "Today's proposal could be a turning point in ending a problem that has dragged on for 16 years."
US, Japan Rework Deal to Pull Marines on Okinawa
New York Times
TOKYO (February 9, 2012) -- Japan and the United States said Wednesday that they were renegotiating a 2006 agreement aimed at removing 8,000 Marines from Okinawa.
The current terms have stalled their long-delayed departure until progress can be made on relocating an important Marine air station on the island, a chronic irritant between the countries.
Both sides have agreed to rework part of the agreement that makes relocation of the air station, the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a precondition for moving the Marines, who with their dependents were supposed to be transferred to Guam by 2014.
The large Marine contingent on Okinawa, a vestige of the US occupation of postwar Japan, has long been resented by the island's residents, and many Okinawans want the Futenma air station closed, not merely relocated. The requirement that the Marine presence cannot be reduced without progress on the air station has effectively frozen the entire deal.
The United States would keep a substantial military footprint on Okinawa even after the air station is relocated and the 8,000 Marines are removed. The island would still be host to 10,000 other Marines.
(c) 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
Seek to Realize Early Return of US Bases in Okinawa
Editorial / The Yomiuri Shimbun
TOKYO (February 9, 2012) -- It is extremely important to quickly bring about the return of US military facilities in Okinawa Prefecture and to lessen the burden of hosting these facilities on the prefecture, by transferring some of the marines stationed in Okinawa before the relocation of the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station.
The Japanese and US governments have produced a joint press release concerning a review of the 2006 bilateral accord on the realignment of US forces stationed in Japan.
Under the review, both countries will implement the transfer of US marines stationed in the prefecture to Guam and the subsequent return of some US military facilities, by handling these points as separate from the relocation of Futenma Air Station.
With regard to the relocation of the air station to the Henoko district in Nago, both countries made clear in the release they will stick to the current plan to relocate the base to Henoko as the "only feasible option."
The US Congress froze the budget related to the transfer of US marines to Guam last autumn. Meanwhile, the relocation of the air station to the Henoko district is facing difficulty due to local opposition.
Under the latest review, the transfer of the marines to Guam is given priority. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba emphasized, "This does not mean, in any sense, that we accept the idea of having Futenma Air Station fixed in its present location [in Ginowan]." If the present situation continues for a long time, however, the possibility of Futenma remaining where it is cannot be ruled out. This can be considered a double-edged sword for Japan.
The transfer of marines to Guam will be scaled down from the originally set 8,000 to about 4,700. To maintain the overall scale of the transfer, other marines will be transferred elsewhere, such as Hawaii, eventually reducing the number of marines stationed in Okinawa to about 10,000. The two countries will work out specifics over the next few months.
The Japanese government first needs to do its utmost to speed up the transfer of marines to Guam and to make a tangible reduction in the burden of hosting them on Okinawa. It is vital to win local understanding to maintain the deterrence capabilities of the US forces and ensure their stable use of the bases in Okinawa.
If 4,700 marines are transferred to Guam, we can expect a decline in the number of incidents or accidents involving marines and a reduction in noise from their operations.
It is also highly likely the transfer of the marines to Guam will spur progress on the return of five other US facilities in the south of the Okinawa main island as specified in the 2006 bilateral accord, including Camp Foster, formerly known as Camp Zukeran, in Ginowan, and Camp Kinser in the Makiminato district in Urasoe.
Use Sites Effectively
To make effective use of the sites of the US military facilities, which are located close to densely populated areas, would serve as a powerful tool for reinvigorating the local economy of Okinawa after they are vacated.
The central government and Okinawa prefectural government must seek some common ground by proactively discussing what kind of future they envision for Okinawa after the US military facilities are returned.
By doing so, they may achieve a breakthrough to prevent Futenma Air Station from being fixed in its present location and also advance the relocation of the air station to the Henoko district.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and the administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan are to blame for the Futenma issue going awry and making the relocation of the air base to Henoko difficult.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has to be fully aware of this and tackle the issue squarely.
Various ideas have been floated as to prospective relocation sites other than Guam, including Hawaii. Yet the choice remains unclear, and it will take some time for any such idea to be realized.
The government must negotiate with the US government with determination to realize the transfer of the 8,000 marines.
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