Japan, U.S. to OK deal on transfer of marines

Kyodo, Jiji

Japan and the United States plan to give the go-ahead at a high-level meeting this week to revise the bilateral accord on realigning U.S. Marine Corps personnel in Okinawa, as well as defense cooperation guidelines in response to China’s military buildup.

The planned revision of the so-called Guam Agreement codifying the transfer of marines from Okinawa to Guam followed a review of the agreement launched in April 2012. The review led to a reduction in the number of U.S. Marine Corps personnel to be relocated to Guam to about 4,000 from the initially envisaged 8,000.

Of the estimated $8.6 billion needed for related projects — including relocating the marines’ dependents and building runways and facilities on Guam and neighboring Pacific islands, Japan will maintain its share of up to $2.8 billion, Japanese officials said Sunday.

The facilities both on Guam and elsewhere will be utilized for future joint exercises to be conducted between U.S. and Japanese forces.

The two nations’ defense and foreign affairs chiefs will sign the revised agreement during their “two-plus-two” meeting Thursday in Tokyo.

The move is aimed at reducing the concentration of U.S. forces in Okinawa by accelerating the marine transfer.

The deal is expected to prompt the U.S. Congress, which has been unhappy about the scarcity of details, to free up funds by promising the personnel transfer in no uncertain terms.

Okinawa, which remained under U.S. control for decades following Japan’s defeat in World War II, continues to host the bulk of U.S. forces, frustrating residents who want a reduced American military footprint.

The two-plus-two meeting will be attended by Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Guam Agreement was reached in February 2009 on the basis of the 2006 bilateral accord on realigning U.S. forces in Japan.

Under the pact, Japan is supposed to provide about $2.8 billion in direct cash contributions and about $3.3 billion in loans via the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to finance part of the $10.2 billion needed to transfer 8,000 marines and their roughly 9,000 dependents to Guam from Okinawa.

After Washington conducted the review of the transfer plan in April 2012, Japan no longer needed to provide the loans, and the total estimated cost fell to $8.6 billion.

Under the revised plan, about 9,000 of the 19,000 marines stationed in Okinawa would be transferred out of the country. Of those, about 4,000 will be moved to Guam. The rest will go to Hawaii, Australia and elsewhere.

The two-plus-two meeting will be held in Japan for the first time in 17 years. The most recent talks took place in Washington in June 2011, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.

At this week’s meeting, Japan and the U.S. are also expected to agree to revise their defense cooperation guidelines to prepare for possible emergencies involving China as well as other uncertainties in East Asia.

The current government, led by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, is considering changing the interpretation of the Constitution so Japan can use collective self-defense to help an ally under attack.

If the self-imposed ban is lifted, the role of the Self-Defense Forces could expand dramatically under the new guidelines.

The two sides are expected to adopt documents to detail their agreements, including on the promotion of joint use of facilities on the remote Nansei chain of islands in the south.