Ensure steady progress on return of Okinawa bases
An agreement has been reached between Japan and the United States that has made it possible to balance the maintenance of deterrence capabilities with lessening Okinawa Prefecture's burden in hosting U.S. forces, while also mitigating Japan's share of the costs involved.
This is definitely a satisfactory accord for Japan.
It is highly important to ensure steady progress on the transfer overseas of U.S. Marine Corps forces from the prefecture and the return of land occupied by U.S. military installations there on the basis of the latest agreement.
The Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, comprising the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries, on Friday announced a joint statement on a review of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.
Under the agreement reached in the committee, also known as the "two-plus-two" meeting, about 9,000 marines will be moved from Okinawa Prefecture to locations outside Japan. About 4,000 will be transferred to Guam, and the rest to Hawaii, Australia and the U.S. mainland. As a result, the number of marines remaining in the prefecture will be reduced to approximately 10,000.
Effective drop in costs
Dispersing marine forces over a broad area of the Western Pacific region with the aim of developing Guam as a strategic hub: This is the primary aim of U.S. forces' new strategy to cope effectively with China's growing military power. It will be conducive to boosting peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.
Such marine forces as the Third Marine Expeditionary Headquarters and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Marine Corps' main fighting force, will remain in Okinawa. That the deterrence capabilities of U.S. forces in Japan will be maintained in this fashion is valuable from the viewpoint of beefing up Japan's defense of the Nansei Islands.
The accord reached in the consultative meeting to develop training areas in Guam and parts of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, such as Tinian, as shared facilities for U.S. forces and the Self-Defense Forces is highly significant for deepening defense cooperation between the two countries.
In a review of the costs Japan and the United States will share in implementing the realignment, Japan's fiscal disbursement has been set at 3.1 billion dollars (about 251 billion yen), equivalent to a figure established in a 2006 agreement on the matter, adjusted for inflation.
On the other hand, Japan's monetary contribution and loans in connection with the relocation of U.S. forces, which was initially planned to be about 3.3 billion dollars, has been reduced to zero. This means Japan's fiscal burden linked to the relocation has in effect been reduced.
It is truly a welcome development that the issue of sharing expenses related to having U.S. forces stationed in Japan and related matters have been settled in a way satisfactory to both countries. It was always a subject of fierce discussions in past Japan-U.S. negotiations.
The accord divides five U.S. facilities in the southern part of Okinawa Prefecture, including Camp Zukeran, into 13 areas. They are either "eligible for immediate return upon completion of necessary procedures"; "eligible for return once the replacement facilities in Okinawa are provided"; or "eligible for return as U.S. Marine Corps forces relocate from Okinawa to locations outside of Japan."
Henoko the only viable solution
The agreement to have U.S. facilities returned to Japan step by step, according to their degree of eligibility for return, can lead to tangible results in alleviating the burden on local areas where the facilities are located. We place a high value on this.
It is important to work out steps to effectively utilize the land after the return of the facilities to promote the economy of Okinawa Prefecture. Local entities concerned should actively devise plans to use the facilities' sites, and the central government should throw its support behind their initiatives.
What must not be forgotten in this connection is the issue of relocating the functions of the Futenma Air Station within the prefecture.
To avoid indefinite use of the Futenma facility by the marines, there can be no alternative to relocation to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture, which the joint statement has reconfirmed "remains the only viable solution that has been identified to date." The central government and the government of Okinawa Prefecture must consult more seriously about the issue of relocating Futenma to Henoko.
Regrettably, because of the U.S. government's insufficient groundwork, the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee made an objection, causing the announcement of the joint statement to be delayed two days. Both Japan and the United States have had problems on security matters.
Endeavors on both sides to overcome these problems one by one will fortify the bilateral alliance.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 28, 2012)