The rising star of Japanese politics, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa, says he sees no need for most of the U.S. troops in the country.
Ozawa, talking with reporters last week, said Japan could get along with just the U.S. 7th Fleet. The rest of the 47,000 U.S. military personnel could go home, he said, according to Japanese press accounts.
"If Japan is prepared to take care on its own issues that are relevant to itself, then there is no need for the United States to forward deploy to such an extent in Japan," Ozawa is quoted on his party’s Web site. "The Americans’ role should become smaller if Japan has a decent strategy for dealing with global issues and shares greater burdens at least on matters associated with our country."
Ozawa is expected to be Japan’s next prime minister as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party continues its slide in voter confidence. Recent polls showed Prime Minister Taro Aso has less than a 14 percent favorable rating.
The LDP was quick to respond, calling Ozawa’s remarks inappropriate at a time he is pushing for new elections.
"The Japanese government thinks that to limit [U.S. troops] to just to the 7th Fleet is unrealistic," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told reporters Thursday.
Ozawa has called for Japan to be more independent of the United States in regional security issues. In 2006, the two sides agreed to realign U.S. troops in the country. According to the agreement, the biggest change would be on Okinawa, which now hosts a bit less than half the troops and 75 percent of the bases solely used for the U.S. military in Japan.
Under the agreement, Marine bases south of Camp Foster would be closed, Marine air operations would be moved to the island’s rural northeast on Camp Schwab, and some 8,000 Marines would move to Guam.