Marines’ move to Guam to cost more

Kyodo News

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked Tokyo to shoulder additional costs to transfer about 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, diplomatic sources from the two countries said Saturday.

The increased amount is estimated to be at least tens of billions of yen, with the U.S. side claiming that expenses to develop infrastructure, such as facilities for electricity as well as water and sewerage, will cost more than expected, according to the sources.

Japan is planning to respond to the request, which Gates made in a letter sent in mid-June, after the July 11 House of Councilors election, according to the sources.

The transfer of the marines to Guam, together with the relocation of the Futenma air station in Okinawa Prefecture, was agreed on in 2006 to be completed in 2014. While a delay in relocating the Futenma base is expected, infrastructure development in Guam is already under way.

The 2006 agreement said total costs for the transfer to Guam will be $10.27 billion, or around ¥900 billion, of which Japan will shoulder some $6.09 billion.

It will be a headache for Prime Minister Naoto Kan as it will inevitably draw criticism from opposition lawmakers and other quarters if the government accepts the increase in the cost burden.

Before submitting the letter, Gates made the request during talks with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Singapore on June 5. But Kitazawa declined to respond directly at that time as it was shortly after the abrupt resignation of Yukio Hatoyama as prime minister.

The U.S. is apparently seeking Japan to shoulder more costs not only because of its tight budget situation, but “it may be linked to former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s flip-flops over the relocation of the Futenma base that damaged the Japan-U.S. alliance,” a diplomatic source said.

Hatoyama, who made a campaign promise during last year’s general election to move the Futenma base out of the prefecture, ended up signing a deal with Washington to relocate it to the Henoko coastal area in Nago, northern Okinawa, in line with an existing plan.