Okinawa officials pleased with realignment deal
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawa officials are pleased the United States and Japan finally agreed on how to pay for transferring to Guam about half of the Marines now stationed on Okinawa.
“We laud the agreement … which will … reduce the burden of Okinawa,” Yoritaka Hanashiro, director general of the Okinawa governor’s executive office, said Tuesday.
“Okinawa … has requested moving all Marines out of Okinawa and Japan,” he said, so transferring about 8,000 of them “is a great step forward. … We hope that the move will take place as promptly as possible.”
Takemasa Moriya, Japan Self-Defense Force vice minister, Monday said moving III Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters and other units to Guam would take at least eight years.
“The U.S. requested Japan to complete the move within eight years,” Moriya said. “However, the starting date is yet to be determined. The … transfer would begin only after a moving plan is finalized.”
Early Monday Japan time, Donald Rumsfeld and Fukushiro Nukaga, U.S. and Japanese defense chiefs, emerged from a three-hour Washington meeting agreeing that Japan will pay roughly 59 percent of the move’s estimated $10.27 billion cost.
The deal removes the last major obstacle to a broad plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan.
The move also will lead to closing major U.S. military bases south of Kadena, Hanashiro said.
“Although the bases are yet to be officially named, all the military installations south of Kadena Air Base are situated in urban areas … and return of the military land will have a significant impact on Okinawa’s economy.”
He said the prefecture will seek to ensure Japanese base workers who lose their jobs due to base closures will be compensated, adding, “Securing jobs for these people is also important.”
Moriya said Japan’s government would continue to seek public support for the move.
“Moving Marines from Okinawa to Guam will contribute to reducing the burden Okinawa has shouldered and at the same time, will ensure the stable presence of the U.S. military in the region, which is necessary for regional stability,” he said. “We need to make the public understand that this agreement best serves the interests of both Japan and the United States.”
That understanding may not be easy to achieve. Japan’s major opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, on Tuesday requested a hearing in the Diet on how the cost of moving Marines to Guam was determined.
And opposition candidates won in city mayoral elections Sunday in Iwakuni, where a Marine Corps air station is to be expanded, and Okinawa City, host to the largest U.S. air base in the Pacific. Under the agreement, Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force is to conduct some training on Kadena Air Base. Both of the new mayors oppose such moves.
In Tokyo on Tuesday, Nukaga said Rumsfeld held out on the U.S. request for Japan to fund 75 percent of the Guam move “right up to the very last moment.”
The deal calls for Tokyo to pay $2.8 billion outright and an additional $1.5 billion in investments and $1.79 billion in loans. Japan would recoup the investments and loans, Nukaga told reporters.
A Self-Defense Force spokesman said the outright grants would go to build the Marine headquarters, other military-related construction and schools. The investments would be made to a yet-to-be-named entity for housing construction. The loans would go toward funding utilities.