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Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009
'Progress' clause a tangible threat
New deal puts onus on Japan but more hurdles await in Guam
OSAKA — The agreement Japan and the United States signed Tuesday on relocating U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam notes that the move is dependent on "tangible progress" toward completing a replacement facility for Air Station Futenma in Ginowan and on Japanese money to fund the development of facilities and infrastructure needed on Guam.
But with no signs that work is going to start on the offshore replacement facility in northern Okinawa and concerns in Guam rising about a host of issues ranging from road safety to environmental impact and foreign workers, doubts about meeting the 2014 relocation deadline remain strong.
The agreement signed by Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reaffirms the 2006 realignment agreement on U.S. bases, known as the road map, and calls on Japan to provide a little more than $6 billion to help 8,000 marines and several thousand dependents move from Okinawa to Guam.
Tuesday's agreement also appears to indicate that something less than full completion of the replacement facility might be acceptable to move at least some of the marines to Guam.
The agreement states: "The relocation shall be dependent on tangible progress made by the government of Japan toward the completion of the Futenma replacement facility as stipulated in the road map. The government of Japan intends to complete the Futenma replacement facility as stipulated in the road map in close cooperation with the government of the United States."
"What gets interpreted as 'tangible progress' will, of course, differ depending on where you sit — Naha, Tokyo or Washington. But this is a delinking of sorts of what many assumed was the core quid pro quo in the base consolidations, the idea the marines would be relocated (to Guam) if and when Futenma relocation was achieved," said Sheila Smith, a Japan and Okinawa specialist on the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
"The agreement also brings Japanese funding commitments forward of a Japanese Lower House election. It puts the commitment in writing so that if the Democratic Party of Japan wins, then Japan is already committed to paying about three-fifths of the cost of relocation," Smith added.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, in a statement to the media following the signing of the agreement, expressed disappointment.
"Tuesday's agreement reaffirms what was decided by Japan and the United States but will not affect prefectural or local governments seeking to move the location of the replacement facility. To complete the move to Guam, a detailed relocation plan that takes into account local concerns is necessary," Nakaima said.
Construction of the Futenma replacement facility has been held up by local opposition. The area where it's to be built, just off the waters of Henoko in northern Okinawa, is still undergoing an environmental assessment due to be completed before April.
The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly is controlled by the opposition parties, which have called on the facility to be built outside Okinawa Prefecture. Nakaima visited Washington last month to call not only for quickly resolving the issue, but also for revising the status of forces agreement.
Nakaima is opposed to the runway's current design and the proposed location for the offshore island because local residents still have noise concerns. His demands for changes, however, have been met with refusals by both Tokyo and Washington.
And then there are the problems in Guam. A report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office last May called the 2014 timetable for relocation optimistic.
The GAO also noted concerns in Guam and Washington about whether Guam's transportation, electrical and sewage infrastructure would be able to cope with the additional load and environmental challenges.
Next year, Guam expects to release an environmental impact study on what the relocation of U.S. forces will mean. The GAO noted that the study's conclusions could affect what happens to the marines in Okinawa and elsewhere.
"(Department of Defense) and Guam officials believe that this is an ambitious and optimistic schedule, considering the possibility that the environmental impact statement could be delayed," the report said.
The GAO report, opposition in Okinawa, questions over the actual cost and the economic downturn were the main reasons why U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Timothy Keating has said that the 2014 relocation deadline is unlikely to be met.
A spokeswoman for Guam Lt. Gov. Mike Cruz, who heads the joint civilian-military task force on Guam, also expressed doubt that the 2014 deadline can be met, at least not without a deeper understanding of the practical issues Guam faces and rapid financial assistance from Washington to get them solved.
"The issues of rebuilding roads, the electricity grids, modernizing the water and sewage infrastructure, and expanding the port get a lot of attention in Japan, but they are only a part of the host of challenges that we face," said Carlotta Leon-Guerrero, Cruz's chief of staff.
"We have concerns ranging from environmental damage to ensuring that the estimated 20,000 foreign workers who will be brought in to build the new marine facilities have proper skills and health care access."