At a Cabinet meeting May 30, the government finalized its basic policy on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. The action followed a final Japan-U.S. agreement May 1 on realignment aimed at strengthening deterrents and reducing Japan’s burden of hosting U.S. military installations.
However, the settlement leaves some important issues unresolved. To start with, the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station at Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, was postponed for eight more years. Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iba expressed deep regret over that decision, which came 10 years after the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa first agreed that the facility would be relocated.
In the latest negotiations, Japanese and U.S. officials chose the coastal area of the Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab at Nago as the alternative site but agreed to leave Futenma as is until the new facility is completed in 2014. Iba said he will demand the closure of Futenma, or its relocation to an overseas site, by 2008.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine, while generally supporting the Japan-U.S. final agreement, refused to endorse the relocation plan for Futenma. He has called for the construction of a temporary heliport on the land portion of Camp Schwab until the Futenma facility is transferred to a site outside Okinawa. Inamine resents the Cabinet’s approval of the basic policy on military realignment without fully consulting with local authorities.
There is strong resistance to the government plan among local communities. Some doubt whether the relocation of Futenma will be realized in eight years as planned. Decision also has been delayed on how to share the costs related to the reconfiguration.
Japanese and U.S. officials did agree that Japan will pay 60 percent of the costs of transferring some 8,000 U.S. Marine personnel from Okinawa to Guam. For the Japanese government to help pay the cost of building military facilities on U.S. territory is in itself unprecedented, and the issue is likely to stir intensive debate in the next Diet.
The overall cost of the realignment, estimated by one U.S. official at 3 trillion yen, has shocked Japanese. The realignment push stems from a major change in U.S. global military strategies. Most Japanese are dismayed that Washington is unilaterally imposing a huge cost burden on them — including the cost of dealing with environmental problems near U.S. military installations — when Japan is troubled with budget deficits.
The burden is in addition to the existing Japanese budget for hosting U.S. military installations. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, worried about growing public resentment over the issue, delayed presenting cost estimates for the realignment, and put off submitting a related legislative package to the Diet.
The irresponsibility of the government, which seems to unquestioningly accept U.S. demands regarding realignment and fails to explain the matter to the public, is beyond belief.
In the latest talks, the failure to discuss how to revise the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) disappointed prefectural authorities. Since 2000, the association of governors of 14 prefectures hosting U.S. military bases has annually demanded SOFA revisions.
Among those prefectures is Okinawa, which accounts for 75 percent of the total area occupied by U.S. military bases in Japan.
In 2003, a group of governing Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers seeking revision of SOFA, as well as the governors’ association, urged revisions to 17 articles. Although the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan looked like a golden opportunity to realize this, and in February 2005 the Okinawa Prefectural Government asked the Japanese and U.S. governments to prioritize revision, the final agreement ignored SOFA.
Consequently, local authorities’ anxieties over (1) the responsibility of U.S. military authorities in restoring returned facilities to their original condition, (2) the handover to Japanese authorities of U.S. military personnel suspected of committing crimes, and (3) the lack of transparency in Japan-U.S. joint committee proceedings are unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future.
The Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee proudly declared that cooperation in the bilateral defense alliance has entered a new phase and that the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan will strengthen the alliance.
On the other hand, closer cooperation by the Self-Defense Forces, including their subcontracting relationships, with the U.S. military under the new system could increase the possibility of the SDF’s involvement in overseas combat, in violation of the pacifist Constitution.
People troubled by environmental problems associated with the U.S. military presence ask why Tokyo must always try so hard to curry favor with Washington. This sentiment is conspicuous in Okinawa. The Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper of Okinawa warned in an editorial May 29 that Okinawa could again become a battlefield in another war under existing Japan-U.S. military strategies.
Even a prominent American warns against Japan’s “overdependence” on the U.S. Glen S. Fukushima, former trade official with the Reagan administration and currently president and CEO of Airbus Japan, said in a news conference in Tokyo in May that Japan-U.S. relations seem unusual, notwithstanding the postwar U.S. occupation of Japan. He warned that this could lead to Japan’s international isolation. He advised Japan to strengthen ties with Asia and Europe while normalizing relations with the U.S.
As an example of Japan’s overdependence on the U.S., Fukushima noted that, in 2005, Airbus’ market share was 31 percent in North America but only 4 percent in Japan, indicating in one sense that Japan is “more American than America.” Such comments, from a former U.S. deputy assistant trade representative and former president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Japan, are convincing.
Japan must pursue independence in security and economic policies. Excessive loyalty to the U.S. will be ridiculed by the international community and by Americans themselves.
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