Japan leaves realignment funds untouched for now
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan’s Defense Ministry, under a new national government, on Thursday trimmed its 2010 budget request by 3 percent but left untouched the amount to be spent on realigning U.S. forces in the country.
Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa announced Friday that the ministry requested about $47 billion for the fiscal year starting in April, less than current-year spending and the eighth decline in as many years.
The ministry is to cut back costs for fuel, thereby curtailing Japan Self-Defense Forces training and equipment procurement, according to a budget summary report the ministry released Friday.
The ministry, meanwhile, endorsed the full amount of U.S. military-related expenditures as proposed in August by the previous government.
The new budget request earmarked about $890 million for realignment costs in 2010, which includes moving operations of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab, upgrading infrastructure on Guam to move about 8,000 Marines there and relocating Carrier Air Wing 5 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
A total of $1.9 billion, an increase of slightly less than 1 percent from the current budget, was requested as funding for the host nation support program, under which Japan pays running costs for military bases in the country, including utilities and Japanese employee salaries.
The request was closely watched as the new government has yet to show its hand on the planned move of Futenma operations to Camp Schwab in the rural northern part of Okinawa.
Since wresting power from the pro-U.S. military Liberal Democratic Party in September, leaders of the coalition government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, have indicated their intention to review the 2006 bilateral agreement to keep the Marine air facility on Okinawa.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima expressed frustration last week over the new government’s delays regarding the Camp Schwab runway project. While showing support for the project only as a second-best option, he urged the government to make a decision as quickly as possible.
Masaaki Gabe, professor of international relations at the University of the Ryukyus, said in a telephone interview Friday that the budget proposal shows a lack of new government leadership.
“Despite their verbal promises to re-examine the plan,” he said, “the budget is telling us that the government would continue to carry out the project.”
Masashi Nishihara, president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security and retired president of the National Defense Academy, said that the coalition government is in no position to decide on its own to change an agreement worked out between the previous administration and the United States.
On the other hand, the DPJ promised voters in its platform to move the operations off of Okinawa, he said.
Nishihara said a lot could be decided in the coming week when Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to visit Japan, ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit in November.