Tokyo may pass law to ease move of U.S. forces to Guam
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Tokyo is considering enacting special legislation to grease the skids for realigning U.S. troops in Japan.
The legislation would allow Japan to spend about $4.27 billion to pay for moving 6,000 to 7,000 Marines, plus their dependents, from Okinawa to Guam and to exercise eminent domain that would allow the national government to build an airport to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Camp Schwab and the shallow waters of Oura Wan Bay.
Under the Status of Forces Agreement and the bilateral security treaty, Japan is obligated to pay for the bulk of the cost of the U.S. bases in the country. However, the existing agreements don’t apply overseas, and some Japanese officials have raised doubts concerning the legality of funding the move under existing laws.
U.S. officials stressed that financial assistance from Japan is essential for the move.
The interim realignment report, released in Washington on Oct. 29, specified that “the government of Japan, recognizing the strong desire of Okinawa residents that such force relocations be realized rapidly, will work with the U.S. government to examine and identify appropriate financial and other measures to enable the realization of these relocations to Guam.”
“Appropriate support measures will be reviewed. However, concrete measures are yet to be proposed,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
A key to realigning troops on Okinawa is closing MCAS Futenma, in the middle of urban Ginowan, and moving it to the island’s rural northeast, within Nago’s city limits but separated from the urban area by mountains.
By anchoring the new air base to Camp Schwab, Tokyo avoids the process of obtaining local government approval — which was a hard sell for the off-shore base accepted by Nago and the prefecture only after Tokyo sweetened the pie with economic incentives and a promise to allow the base to be jointly used by civilian aircraft.
Now that the old relocation plan has been scrapped and the Camp Schwab plan makes no room for joint use, Okinawa officials say they oppose the new airport.
The government is considering a special law aimed at expediting the relocation process by giving the central government power to approve matters usually left to local governments — such as environmental impact assessments and reclamation work on public waters.
The legislation would be similar to a law passed in 1997 when there was a snag in getting the owner of a small patch of land at the U.S. Navy’s Sobe Communications Site to renew a lease. In the past, it was up to the governor to sign documents allowing for the forced renewal of the lease, but then-Gov. Masahide Ota refused to cooperate.
Tokyo then passed a law that allowed the national government to force the lease renewal.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Director General Fukushiro Nukaga is due to arrive in Okinawa to meet with Gov. Keiichi Inamine and municipal leaders to try to gain their understanding for the realignment plan, which has been met with widespread opposition.