(Mainichi Japan) February 7, 2012
Relocation of Futenma base must not be neglected in review of US force realignment

The issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture must not be left behind in a review of the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.
(今回の米軍再編成により普天間の移設問題がうやむやにされてはならない。trans. by srachai )

Tokyo and Washington have agreed in principle to transfer some of the U.S. Marines in Okinawa to Guam in advance of the Futenma relocation, even though the two countries had decided to carry out both relocations as a package.

Specifically, the number of Okinawa-based Marines to be moved to Guam would be reduced to about 4,700 from the some 8,000 planned initially, while the remainder would be shifted to U.S. bases in Australia, the Philippines and other countries in a rotation.

It is widely believed that the review has been put in motion on the U.S. government's initiative, with an eye to winning the support of a Congress calling for deep defense spending cuts, including to funds for the Okinawa-based Marines' relocation.

The relocation of Futenma, which is aimed at eliminating the danger the base -- located right in the middle of the city of Ginowan -- poses to local residents, and the transfer of Marines to Guam under the U.S. forces realignment, do not in fact have anything to do with each other.

However, these two separate issues were combined in a 2006 bilateral agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces.

If the transfer of Okinawa-based Marines goes ahead, it will undoubtedly reduce the U.S. base-hosting burden Japan's southernmost prefecture has shouldered for so many decades.

If the delinking of the two issues leads to an early transfer of Marines out of Okinawa, it should be regarded as a major step forward.

However, concerns have been raised that the delinking of the two issues could lead to a slowdown in efforts to relocate Futenma out of Ginowan.

The Japanese and U.S. governments are required to respond to local governments' concerns, including that "the U.S. government may lose enthusiasm for settling the Futenma issue once it completes transferring Marines out of Okinawa" and that "the Futenma base may stay in Ginowan permanently."

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said recently, "As we're aware that local residents are concerned that Futenma may remain there permanently, we'll put our utmost efforts into our negotiations on the issue with the United States."

As he has pledged, the government should place priority on ensuring that Futenma will be relocated out of Ginowan.

The prime minister should have the courage to review the Japan-U.S. agreement to move the Futenma base to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture, which Nago residents are opposing.

We would like to request that the two countries ensure that the following two points are carried out.

First, Tokyo and Washington should speed up their consultations on early relocation of Marines to Guam, and work out the details of the plan to rotate the remaining troops to other areas in a way that will truly reduce the burden on Okinawa.

It would be unacceptable if the Marines on rotation continued to place a burden on Okinawa.

Moreover, with the decrease in the number of troops to be moved to Guam, the two countries need to review a bilateral agreement under which Japan is required to foot $6.09 billion of the $10.27 billion cost of the transfer.

It is a matter of course that Tokyo demand its financial burden be reduced.

Japan should not agree to pay any unnecessary costs in an effort to ensure U.S. troops are rotated out of Okinawa.

毎日新聞 2012年2月7日 2時31分

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