Japan and the United States on April 27 issued a joint statement — an interim report on the review of the 2006 plan to realign U.S. armed forces in Japan. The statement hints at the possibility of exploring new options concerning the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the crowded urban area of Ginowan in central Okinawa to the less populated Henoko area in the north of the island.

The U.S. apparently thinks that integrating Futenma’s functions to the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena Air Base, also in Okinawa, is a possible option. Both Tokyo and Washington should realize that the Okinawa prefectural assembly and people will not accept such an option because they want the Futenma’s functions to leave the prefecture.

The statement also said Japan and the U.S. will push “refurbishment projects” at the Futenma base. This is raising fears that the base will remain at its current location for a long time to come. In fact, it’s being reported that the U.S. proposed to Japan a ¥20 billion, eight-year Futenma refurbishment plan starting in fiscal 2012.

The statement dropped the phrase that the Henoko plan is “the only viable way” to transfer Futenma’s functions, as appeared in the earlier Feb. 8 Japan-U.S. joint statement. Instead, it says the Henoko plan “remains the only viable solution that has been identified to date”. The change in wording came as a result of skepticism about the plan expressed by U.S. senators Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and John McCain and Jim Webb, members of the committee.

The statement says that the relocation of the Futenma functions must meet “the criteria: operationally viable, politically feasible, financially responsible and strategically sound.” But given the people’s strong opposition in Okinawa, it is clear the Henoko plan is not politically feasible.

Under the realignment, about 9,000 U.S. Marines will move from Okinawa to Guam, Hawaii and Australia. Apparently the U.S. thinks that in view of China’s naval and air power and the range of its missiles, it’s not wise to concentrate its forces in Okinawa. The joint statement says that the revised posture strengthens deterrence and enables flexible and rapid responses to various contingencies.

This shows that the U.S. thinks that moving forces out of Okinawa does not necessarily weaken its deterrence in the Asia-Pacific region. It also fails to mention the importance of maintaining operational capabilities of U.S. Marine Corps’ air units. Japan should call on the U.S. all the more to consider a new option that moves the Futenma functions out of Okinawa Prefecture, so that the Futenma base will close soon.

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