U.S. proposes moving some troops to Hokkaido

The United States has sounded Japan out on a plan to relocate some of its 16,000 marines stationed in Okinawa to a Ground Self-Defense Force training range in Hokkaido, Japanese officials said Monday.

The move forms part of a planned U.S. global military transformation, the officials said.

The U.S. presented the plan during informal meetings involving foreign and defense officials held several times since late last year.

Japan is not treating it as an official proposal, as “the overall picture of the planned transformation is still unknown,” a senior Defense Agency official said. But the government is considering whether it should accept the plan, as it has been urging the U.S. to reduce the heavy troop burden shouldered by Okinawa compared with other parts of Japan, the officials said.

But opposition is expected in Hokkaido, as the plan, according to another senior Defense Agency official, “is the equivalent of setting up a new base.”

The plan calls for moving the artillery unit of the 3rd Marine Division’s 12th Marine Regiment to the GSDF Yausubetsu Training Range in eastern Hokkaido.

The range has been used by the marines since September 1997, after Japan and the U.S. agreed in 1996 to relocate training involving the firing of live artillery shells over Highway 104 in Okinawa.

The marines are scheduled to conduct live-fire artillery training this year — beginning July 28 — at the Yausubetsu range, where shells can be fired up to 18 km.