Costly transfer to Guam

by

PARIS — It was welcome news for the struggling government of Prime Minister Taro Aso that the Obama administration has given Japan a high priority in its foreign policy agenda. In mid-February, Hillary Rodham Clinton chose Japan as the first country to visit as U.S. secretary of state, and later that month, Aso became the first foreign leader to be invited to the White House by President Barack Obama.

But these gestures by Washington can hardly be said to have helped to shore up the shaky Tokyo government. The only tangible accomplishment during Clinton’s stay in Tokyo was the agreement on relocating some U.S. Marine personnel and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam, which she signed with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone.

The Lower House of the Diet is expected to start deliberating the bill to approve the agreement this week. As the accord is opposed by the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition groups, it is bound to become the most controversial issue in the current legislative session.

The agreement confirms the 2006 “road map” for relocating the marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to the American island of Guam, and stipulates Japan’s financial obligations in the relocation. Unlike an ordinary bill that requires approval by both Diet houses, the agreement can take effect if approved only by the Lower House. The governments of Japan and the United States appear to be aiming to have it approved while the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito hold a two-thirds majority in the Lower House. That way, even if there is a regime change after the LDP loses the next election, whoever rules the nation will be bound by it.

Even after the signing of the 2006 road map and the agreement last month, the government has encountered much difficulty in winning support for the related plan to transfer the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko coastal area of Nago City on the same island. Nago citizens anticipate noise from military aircraft taking off and landing on the new airfield to be constructed there. The relocation of the marines to Guam hinges on moving the air station to Nago.

Keiichi Inamine, while governor of Okinawa Prefecture, insisted that he had never approved the new airfield layout — two runways in a V-shape. Hirokazu Nakaima, who succeeded Inamine in 2006, also opposes the present plan, demanding that the proposed new air base be moved further offshore.

Last July the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, where parties opposing the central government have held a majority since last June’s election, adopted a resolution against building the new base in the Henoko area.

The preamble to the Guam transfer agreement states that “implementation of the realignment initiative . . . will reduce the burden on local communities, including those on Okinawa, thereby providing the basis for enhanced public support for the security alliance.” But the words ring hollow, as the primary purpose of the pact obviously was to quell local opposition to construction of the new air station.

Even though matters related to diplomacy are the prerogatives of the central government, it must not be forgotten that the realignment of the U.S. forces as set forth in the agreement would bring about serious changes to the living environment of Okinawans. The government must not bulldoze the scheme against the will of the governor and the prefectural assembly.

The agreement estimates the total cost of relocating the marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam at $10.27 billion, of which Japan would contribute $6.09 billion. The figure has caused controversy in Japan. The Japanese government has not clearly answered why Tokyo must bear up to 60 percent of the cost of building military facilities in the U.S. territory.

Moreover, not every detail of the estimated cost has been clarified. What I fear is that the estimated total cost has been so inflated that after the Japanese side has paid its share, the burden on the American shoulders will end up nil.

The U.S. already owes large sums of money to Japan in connection with the stationing of its forces. Under the bilateral status of forces agreement, the U.S. is required to share in the payout of damages to victims of military exercises. Even though court rulings have been finalized in a series of cases requiring the U.S. to pay $12.46 billion to those who have suffered from American aircraft noise, not a penny has been paid by Washington and Tokyo has borne the entire amount.

Would it not be reasonable to settle this compensation issue before Japan agrees to bear another huge sum of money for the relocation of marines to Guam? For 60 years — since the end of the Pacific War — the government has consistently refused to compensate civilian victims of the indiscriminate wartime bombing of Japanese cities by U.S. aircraft. Bereaved families have filed a number of lawsuits in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, demanding a Japanese government apology and compensation. Again, if Tokyo can afford to pay for the transfer of U.S. military personnel to a U.S. territory, why should it not pay damages to its own citizens?

Whenever the leaders of the two countries meet, they are unanimous on the need for strengthening the bilateral alliance. Yet, Japanese people do not necessarily share the same perspective.

At a January press conference marking the end of his four-year tenure in Tokyo, former U.S. Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer said, “I think the interpretation of collective defense needs to be looked at as a prerequisite to the equal bilateral partnership desired.” This was tantamount to expressing Washington’s desire that Japan’s Self- Defense Forces fight with the U.S. military.

On the other hand, when many Japanese people speak of an equal partnership, the emphasis is on a more equitable implementation of the status of forces agreement — such as applying Japanese environmental standards to U.S. military bases in this country.

In February, Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the No. 1 opposition Democratic Party of Japan and who is known to favor a more equitable relationship in the bilateral alliance, made a statement that was criticized by some politicians as running counter to “Japan’s common sense.” Ozawa said the 7th Fleet is all that’s needed for the U.S. to maintain its presence in the Far East.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, the basis of the bilateral alliance. Therefore, this appears to be an appropriate occasion to review the way the two countries cooperate with each other in security and military matters vis-a-vis the circumstances that have emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

It is all but certain that the current governing coalition of the LDP and Komeito will lose its two-thirds majority in the Lower House in the general election later this year. That could lead to unprecedented turmoil on the Japanese political landscape. The realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, including the marines’ relocation to Guam, should be put off until the future of Japanese politics becomes more clear or, preferably, until after the security treaty has been reviewed. The issue is of such importance that it should not be dealt with hastily while this country is in a state of political chaos.

Clinton’s visit to Japan and the execution of the Guam transfer agreement can only be interpreted as an attempt by Washington to secure its vested rights to maintain military bases in Japan. If so, it will undoubtedly come as a big disappointment to those Japanese citizens of sound judgment who earnestly hoped that President Obama would depart from the belligerent policies of his predecessor.

Kiroku Hanai is a journalist and former editorial writer of Tokyo Shimbun.