Diet enacts law that paves way for U.S. forces realignment

Kyodo News

The Diet enacted legislation Wednesday that will pave the way for U.S. military forces to be realigned in Japan despite criticism of its “carrot and stick” approach, which gives subsidies to local governments based how much they cooperate with the government’s plans.

The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito pushed the bill through the House of Councilors by a majority vote at a plenary session, completing its passage through the Diet. It was approved by the House of Representatives on April 13.

The law is designed to provide subsidies conditionally and incrementally in four stages to municipalities that host or are situated near bases expected to have a substantial U.S. military presence.

It is not clear how much money will be involved or what the specific conditions are for getting it, but the law gives the defense minister the authority to dole out subsidies based on the level of cooperation received in implementing the realignment plans that Japan and the United States agreed to in May 2006.

The law also enables the state-run Japan Bank for International Cooperation to provide investment and loans for the transfer of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The subsidies would increase in each of the four phases — acceptance of the realignment plan, implementation of an environmental impact assessment, start of facility construction and completion of construction along with start of facility use.

The law has a timeline of 10 years through March 2017, but a special clause would allow for extending its validity for up to five more years if implementation of the realignment is prolonged.

The package includes plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture, and transfer carrier-borne fighters from the U.S. Navy’s Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture to the marines’ Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The lack of clear objective benchmarks has already led to contradictory comments by government officials. One senior Defense Ministry official said Nago would not get the subsidies due to its call for amending the relocation plan, while Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said he intended to subsidize the city because it as not completely opposed it.