Okinawa: Now for the hard work

Posted in Japan | 28-Apr-06 | Author: Hisane Masaki| Source: Asia Times

Nukaga and Rumsfeld seal the deal in Washington.

TOKYO - Long and hectic negotiations have finally produced a landmark pact on the realignment of US forces on Japanese soil, but the real hard work gets under way once the deal is signed on Tuesday in Washington. And it won't be made any easier now that the Japanese public is seeing the price tag.

The realignment package, an outline of which was announced in October, is purportedly aimed at reducing strains on Japanese communities that host bases while maintaining the US presence. The agreement will further cement the bonds between the close allies through increased integration of their military operations and pave the way for Tokyo's greater involvement in US-led operations not only in Asia but globally.

The last major obstacle to the deal revolved around cost-sharing for transferring 8,000 US marines to the US territory of Guam in the Pacific from the southernmost Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa. Japanese Defense Minister Fukushiro Nukaga and US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed on Sunday that Japan will pay US$6.1 billion, or 59%, of the estimated $10.3 billion relocation cost. It is unprecedented for Japan to spend state funds on US bases located outside Japan. The move to Guam is to be completed in fiscal 2012.

"The agreement on the cost-sharing will accelerate the final agreement on the realignment of US bases in Japan," Nukaga said at a news conference in Washington after meeting with Rumsfeld. "Although there were several bumps on the path to the agreement, Japan will bear the cost to realize the relocation as quickly as possible."

Earlier, the two had resolved two other main sticking points in the negotiations on the overall realignment of US forces in Japan - the construction of a new US military airfield to relocate heliport functions of the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station within Okinawa prefecture and the destination of Futenma's KC-130 refueling aircraft.

The government plans to submit to the current session of the diet - Japan's parliament - a set of bills aimed at promoting the reorganization of US bases in Japan. Among them is a bill to establish a legal basis for Japan to share the cost of relocating US marines to Guam and another concerning new grants to the governments of local communities affected by the overall realignment plan.

Enactment of the bills is almost certain, given that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition holds a majority of seats in the diet, but the government faces the tough task of selling the pact to the public. The Japanese are already increasingly worried about huge government debts and rising social-security and tax burdens. Also, the planned realignment has met with strong opposition from communities being asked to host new US military facilities and more US forces.

Nukaga had called for limiting Japan's share as much as possible in order to gain public support for the big financial burden for building facilities outside of Japan. But at the same time he acknowledged the need for Japan to "shoulder essential burdens in the context of maintaining the alliance and reducing local burdens".

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe echoed Nukaga's view the day after the agreement. "Japan needs to shoulder the necessary costs in order to achieve as early as possible our two goals of reducing the local burden and maintaining the deterrent capability."

But it remains to be seen whether the Japanese public will be convinced of such arguments. Even the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest daily and a staunch proponent of stronger alliance with the US, published an editorial calling for the government to fully explain the cost-sharing. "Many details about the latest agreement remain obscure. On what basis has the total cost for relocation been estimated? The government says it plans to establish a new third-sector body for the investment, with the invested money expected to be returned. But how will the invested money be returned? And in what specific way will the loans be extended?"

In remarks that further shocked the Japanese government as well as the public, a senior Pentagon official said only two days after the cost-sharing agreement for moving the marines to Guam that Japan will pay an estimated $26 billion (about 3 trillion yen) or more to help implement the overall US military realignment in Japan over six to seven years, compared with the US share of $4 billion.

"The only cost to the United States is $4 billion on Guam," Richard Lawless, deputy defense under secretary for Asia and Pacific affairs, said at a news conference when repeatedly asked why the US struck a compromise deal with Japan.

The US originally demanded that Japan pick up 75% of the cost of the Guam move.

The deal was a "fairly struck bargain", Lawless said. "On the whole islands of Japan, including Okinawa, let us say it is approximately $20 billion. Adding to that their costs on Guam ... makes that total about $26 billion. It is their responsibility. But these are very rough, probably reasonably conservative estimates."

Koizumi, who maintains there will be no tax increase to pay for the Guam move, tried to dispel concerns by suggesting Lawless was playing to the US public. "Mr Lawless must have given consideration to the US public sentiment that Japan's share is too light although the United States is bearing so much responsibility for Japan's defense. It seems to be a position similar to the Japanese one."

Still, Japan is seeking a clarification on Lawless's remarks and estimates that overall realignment will cost at least $26 billion, which would amount to annual payments until 2012 of about 10% of Japan's yearly defense budget. Abe told reporters, "This amount is not the result of any agreement, and we have not received any request from the US to shoulder this amount."

But some Japanese officials acknowledge that the total cost Japan has to shoulder for overall realignment, including regrouping bases, will be well over 2 trillion yen, if not as much as the 3 trillion yen mentioned by Lawless. A senior Foreign Ministry official pointed out that Japan basically must bear all the cost for relocating US forces within the country, because it is obliged under bilateral security arrangements to provide bases for the United States.

Final agreement
The final realignment pact comes less than a month after the Defense Agency struck a deal with Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro on the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to the northern Okinawa city from the densely populated area of Ginowan city in the southern part of the prefecture.

But Tokyo has yet to persuade Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine to accept the revised plan. The governor, who has authority to approve landfills in the area, has been insisting that either a civilian-military airport be built offshore from Henoko as agreed to in a previous plan or that the airfield be moved outside of Okinawa altogether. The relocation of Futenma Air Station, which was agreed to between Tokyo and Washington 10 years ago but has been stalled, is a prerequisite for the relocation of US marines to Guam.

The US administration has been reviewing the role of its bases in Japan as part of its military's worldwide "transformation". The US expects Japan to play the role of strategic hub to ensure stability in an "arc of instability" stretching from Northeast Asia to the Middle East via Southeast and South Asia. But the repositioning in Japan is also meant to ease tensions caused by the US military presence. The US bases some 47,000 troops in Japan, and residents in Okinawa prefecture, about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Tokyo - where most of the troops and bases are concentrated - have long complained of crime, crowding and noise linked to the military.

Among other major points expected to be included in the final pact next week are:

  • Relocation of the US Army's 1st Army Corps in Fort Lewis, Washington, which is in charge of the Pacific and Indian oceans, to Camp Zama in Kanagawa prefecture. It will be in charge of contingencies on the Korean Peninsula.
  • Movement of the Air Defense Command to the US Air Force's Yokota Base in western Tokyo to create a joint missile-defense command center by fiscal 2009. Creation of the command center is aimed at strengthening Japan's ability to detect and deal with enemy missile launches.
  • Return of part of the 214-hectare Sagami general depot in Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture, and part of the 235-hectare Camp Zama, in Zama and Sagamihara.
  • Return of four US military facilities in Okinawa prefecture to Japan by the end of fiscal 2013. They have a combined area of about 880 hectares, accounting for about 4% of the total area of US bases in the prefecture.
  • Use of Yokosuka Naval Base as a home for a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Such a vessel is to be deployed, for the first time in Japan, at the base, headquarters of the US 7th Fleet and Koizumi's native city and constituency near Tokyo. Japan has no aircraft carrier of its own.

    Japan has beefed up its security alliance with the United States in the past decade. The pace of this move has been accelerated since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, which, coupled with perceived potential threats, especially from North Korea, increased awareness among many Japanese of the necessity to make their country's security and crisis-management system more robust.

    The ongoing move toward a stronger security alliance between Japan and the US has highly alarmed Beijing. There are suspicions in China that the real US motive for the sweeping overhaul of its military's global posture might be what some call the "soft containment" of its rapidly ascending military and economic power.

    Meanwhile, Japan and the US are now considering revising the 1997 defense cooperation guidelines, with a view to expanding international peacekeeping activities to cope with the changing global situation, such as the "war on terrorism", and promoting bilateral cooperation in a missile defense system. The current guidelines emphasize cooperation between the two countries during emergencies in areas surrounding Japan.

    The two countries are considering issuing a joint statement spelling out the basic principles of the planned new guidelines when Koizumi visits the US for talks with President George W Bush in late June.

    Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. Masaki's e-mail address is [email protected]
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