Tokyo will cover construction costs of U.S. military facilities outside Japan if the Self-Defense Forces can use them, and will provide weapons to neighboring countries under the official development assistance framework, sources said.
The new initiatives form two pillars of an interim report being drawn up by Tokyo and Washington on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, according to the sources. They will be incorporated into a joint statement to be released when Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda meets President Barack Obama on April 30.
The interim report was originally scheduled for release on April 25, but it was postponed at the request of Washington after influential U.S. senators expressed concerns about the details.
Tokyo and Washington plan to reschedule the release before Noda arrives in the United States on April 29.
Based on Japan’s easing of its self-imposed regulations on weapons exports in December, the interim report states that Japan will take various measures, including the strategic use of official development assistance, to provide weapons to its allies. Specifically, it says Tokyo is considering providing patrol vessels to neighboring countries.
The report also says Tokyo will consider cooperating in the construction of drill sites on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands that will be used jointly by Japan and the United States. That means the Japanese government will agree to cover part of the building costs if the SDF can use those facilities.
Officials at the Defense Ministry said the generosity offered to the United States will end up rewarding Japan.
"The new measure could make it possible to conduct practical war drills that would have been impossible in Japan," a senior ministry official said.
The ministry hopes that joint drills by the Ground SDF, consisting mainly of tanks and artillery, and the U.S. Marines, who excel in mobility, will help to keep in check China's rising power in the region.
But money was the biggest factor behind the agreement on joint construction and use of U.S. military facilities outside Japan. Following major cuts in its defense budgets, Washington turned its eye to Japan’s financial resources.
The interim report says the total cost of relocating U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam will be lowered to $8.6 billion from the $10.27 billion in the 2006 bilateral agreement. However, Japan will stick to its 2006 pledge to contribute a maximum of $2.8 billion.
In an attempt to quell domestic criticism against the financial burden, Tokyo agreed to slip the building costs for joint-use facilities on Guam and the Northern Marianas into that $2.8 billion commitment.
Tokyo and Washington envisage drill sites for the Marines on the Tinian and Pagan islands in the Northern Marianas. Those islands currently host little more than shooting ranges, and building full drill sites there is expected to require huge sums of money.
The United States has estimated the building costs on Tinian at around $800 million and is calling on Japan to cover half of that expense.
The Japan-U.S. interim report also touched upon three bilateral issues on which basic agreements have been reached: the military composition on Guam and Okinawa; the return of land in Okinawa to Japan; and the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The report says about 10,000 members of the Marine Corps will remain in Okinawa Prefecture in accordance with the level agreed upon in 2006. About 9,000 Marines and their family members will be relocated to Guam, Hawaii and Australia.
About 5,000 Marines will be stationed on Guam, the document says.
The report says five U.S. military facilities south of the U.S. Air Force Kadena Air Base--excluding the Futenma air station--will be split into 13 sections and returned to Japan in three stages. A specific plan for the return will be drawn up by the end of this year.
It also says the current plan to relocate the Futenma base to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture, remains the only effective solution. Japan will cover part of the repair expenses for the Futenma station until the relocation is completed. A list of specific repairs in the foreseeable future will be drawn up by the end of this year.
But some influential members of the U.S. Senate have opposed details of the interim report.
Chairman Carl Levin, Ranking Member John McCain and Jim Webb of the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 24 sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, saying: "We have many questions (in the interim report) that have not been fully addressed."
In view of the clout of the letter writers on defense-related budgets, Washington made the unusual move to request a postponement of the release of the document.
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