Japan and the United States on Feb. 8 announced a joint statement to revise a 2006 agreement on realignment of the U.S. armed forces in Japan. The agreement linked (1) the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the densely populated Ginowan in Okinawa Island to less populated Henoko on the same island and (2) the transfer of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The two countries have now agreed to delink the two issues.

Although the delinkage may accelerate transfer of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and other places, there is no guarantee that the Futenma issue will be solved in the manner desired by Okinawan people. Rather, the air station may continue to operate at its current Futenma location.

Although Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says he will do his best to prevent continued use of the air station, he has not said that he has given up on the Henoko plan. The joint statement says it is “the only viable way” to realize a transfer of Futenma functions. The government should realize that as long as it sticks with the Henoko plan, it cannot resolve the Futenma issue.

The U.S. reportedly hopes to transfer 4,700 of the 8,000 U.S. Marines in Okinawa covered by the 2006 agreement to Guam and the remaining number to other locations such as Australia and Hawaii. A plan to move 1,500 of them to Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, has been reported.

Behind the U.S. move is a reduction of its defense budget and a new strategy that calls for more efficient deployment of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region to cope with China’s rise.

The U.S. is also expected to return five facilities and areas in the southern part of Okinawa Island to Japan. The government apparently hopes that the return of these facilities and areas will soften Okinawan opposition to the transfer of Futenma functions to Henoko, but this is wishful thinking. The government should stop asking Okinawans to accept the Henoko plan and, instead, call on the U.S. to consider moving the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture.

Under the 2006 agreement, Japan is to pay $6.09 billion and the U.S. is to pay $4.18 billion for the transfer of U.S. Marines to Guam. If the U.S. calls on Japan to shoulder even more of the financial burden, Japan should insist that the U.S. first agree to move the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture.

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