Naoaki Murata, administrative vice minister of the Defense Agency, on April 10 flatly denied recent media reports that U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, during his visit here, insisted on the need to maintain the U.S. Marines in Okinawa to ensure security in the Taiwan Straits.

According to the reports, Cohen told Defense Agency Chief Fumio Kyuma during defense talks April 7 that the current level of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa must be maintained even if the Korean Peninsula is unified.

Murata strongly denied the reports, claiming that “no such remark was ever made” during the top-level defense meeting. Murata went on to say that it was extremely regrettable that the media report even asserted that both nations’ defense officials had conspired to withhold the information so as not to antagonize China. “The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty should never serve to contain or menace China,” Murata reiterated. “Rather, China is a beneficiary of the treaty,” he said, adding that Japan and the U.S. will continue their efforts to encourage China to collaborate in sustaining peace and stability in the region.

Murata quoted Cohen as saying that the current U.S. military force and functions must be maintained at the present level for the sake of security in the Asia-Pacific region, at least for the foreseeable future.

Since tensions on the Korean Peninsula are likely to remain for the time being, so too will current levels of marines stationed on Okinawa, said Murata, summarizing Cohen’s remarks.

Touching on a recent turn of events in which Okinawa’s Nago Municipal Government agreed to accept Tokyo’s plan to launch a feasibility study for the proposed relocation of the U.S. Marine heliport at Futenma to an offshore facility, Murata said he appreciates the positive stance of Nago Mayor Tetsuya Higa. The defense agency will continue its efforts to gain the understanding of local residents, he added.

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