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Monday, Feb. 27, 2012
Thinking over force realignment
Following a revision by Japan and the United States in early February of a 2006 agreement on the realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan, various issues have cropped up that the Diet must scrutinize. But discussions there have not progressed since the government avoids giving specific answers.
Both the government and political parties must realize that the revision offers a chance to solve the issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the densely populated Okinawa Island city of Ginowan to less populated Henoko in the northern part of the island. They must do their best to use this opportunity to resolve the issue in a manner acceptable to Okinawans.
Although Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda flew to Okinawa on Sunday to apologize to Okinawans for the government's handling of the Futenma issue thus far, he should realize that the Okinawan people will not accept the Henoko plan as it stands. Mr. Noda must make concrete efforts to move Futenma's functions outside Okinawa Prefecture.
In the February revision, Japan and the U.S. agreed to delink the Futenma issue and the original plan to transfer 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Now, 4,700 of the marines are expected to move to Guam, and the remaining number to other locations such as Australia and Hawaii.
Various other issues include the dates for returning five facilities and areas south of Kadena Air Base, the schedule for transferring U.S. Marines to the overseas locations, and Japan's future financial burden for the transfers.
Under the 2006 agreement, Japan is to pay $6.09 billion, and the U.S. is to pay $4.18 billion to transfer the marines to Guam. Japan should closely examine the new Guam transfer plan to avoid shouldering any unnecessary financial costs.
Behind the marine transfer plan is a reduction of the U.S. defense budget and a new strategy of a more efficient deployment of forces in the Asia-Pacific region to cope with China's rise. Although the U.S. plan is aimed at enhancing its power to deter potential enemies in the region, and Japan and the U.S. share apprehensions about China's moves, Japan should carefully study the wisdom of building a confrontational front with the U.S. against China.
Japan needs to develop diplomacy that is both resilient to China's maneuvers and conducive to establishing constructive bilateral relations.