CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A former Japan Self-Defense Force leader has cautioned against any deep cuts in the number of Marines stationed on Okinawa.

That some 13,000 Marines are assigned permanently to Okinawa, with 2,000 to 3,000 more there occasionally for temporary training, keeps China from invading Taiwan, Fumio Kyuma, former SDF chief, said during a recent visit to Washington, D.C. Kyuma now chairs Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party general affairs council.

He was in Washington at the same time Japanese defense and foreign ministry officials were to meet with their U.S. counterparts on a plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan. Part of an interim report released Oct. 29 calls for 7,000 Marines to transfer from Okinawa to Guam and elsewhere in Japan during the next six years.

If China occupied Taiwan, “there would be no Taiwan between China and Japan,” Kyuma said. “China would move right over to Okinawa.”

Residents of Ishigaki and Miyako, Japanese islands between Okinawa and Taiwan, “would grow extremely nervous, resulting in Okinawa having no alternative but to ask for the military to stay,” he said, according to Japanese news reports.

Kyuma praised increased joint training by U.S. and Japanese troops, noting that a small contingent of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers now trains with Marines in California on how to respond to an enemy invading Japan’s southern islands.

Kyuma was in Washington discussing the need for a mutual aid pact to let Japan repair top-secret U.S. military equipment based in Japan, including Aegis guided missile destroyers. He said he spoke with high-ranking U.S. defense officials, former Defense Secretary William Cohen and Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state.

He told Japanese reporters Diet members would visit America in May to discuss such a pact with U.S. defense officials.

Meanwhile, all three candidates for the Jan. 22 mayoral race in Nago oppose the interim plan to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a smaller airstrip on Camp Schwab.

A mountain separates rural Camp Schwab from Nago’s urban area. The original plan was to build a much larger airport about two miles offshore, to be used jointly by civilian aircraft. The new plan does not include such joint use.

U.S. defense officials have stated that moving the 6,000-troop III Marine Expeditionary Force command element to Guam was contingent on building the facility to replace air operations now based on MCAS Futenma.

Of the three candidates, Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, 59, backed by the LDP and outgoing Mayor Tateo Kishimoto, insists the Schwab plan should be revised to include input from the local business community.

Candidate Yoshitami Oshiro, 65, backed by anti-base groups, opposes either plan and insists a replacement for Futenma be found outside Okinawa.

Munehiro Gakiya, 59, backed by the Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party and Okinawa Social Mass Party, said he strongly opposes the Camp Schwab plan, although he originally supported the offshore facility.

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