Japan and the United States announced a basic agreement to revise the road map for the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.
They decided to separate the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, from the transfer of Marines to Guam and the return to Japan of five U.S. military installations south of U.S. Air Force Kadena Air Base. Previously, the three issues were considered an inseparable package.
In the 16 years since Tokyo and Washington agreed to return the Futenma base, the proposed relocation has made little progress. So they decided to move forward on feasible parts of the road map. We recognize the way they changed their rigid attitude in dealing with the matter, and we hope future negotiations will produce concrete results.
On this occasion, the two governments should make efforts to reduce the excessive burden on Okinawa, which hosts 75 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan.
To local residents, what is particularly important is the return of U.S. bases that spread across the heavily populated central and southern part of the Okinawa main island and are hindering industrial advancement in the region.
If the sites of bases near urban districts are redeveloped, new jobs could be created, re-energizing the local economy. Actual examples include the Naha Shintoshin commercial district in the prefectural capital and Hamby Town, a shopping complex in Chatan, both of which stand on land formerly occupied by U.S. military installations. Such plans should be steadily realized.
The number of Marines transferred to Guam is expected to be reduced to 4,700 from the initially planned 8,000. The revised plan calls for the remainder to be dispatched to Australia and the Philippines in rotation.
Originally, the transfer was scheduled to be completed by 2014. Along with the methods, a clear deadline also needs to be set.
Since the number of troops will be reduced, it is a matter of course that the expenses borne by the Japanese side also be cut down.
From the viewpoint that the burden related to national security should be shared by the nation as a whole, we should study plans to accept some of the troops at bases on the Japanese mainland. Also in the past, live-ammunition drills were partially transferred to Hokkaido and Oita Prefecture.
The U.S. side mentioned the transfer of Marines to the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture. However, Iwakuni will accept the transfer of 59 carrier-based aircraft and 4,000 troops and families from Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture. Under such circumstances, it is unreasonable to demand the area shoulder a further burden.
By actually reducing the burden on local communities in Okinawa, Tokyo and Washington apparently want to win public understanding for the relocation of Futenma to the Henoko district in Nago and create an atmosphere that can break the deadlock.
Okinawa's popular will demanding the relocation of Futenma outside the prefecture or Japan remains firm, and there are no prospects for it to change.
If the two governments continue to stick to the original relocation plan without recognizing this reality, they would only cause Futenma to be fixed as it is. Even the U.S. side recognizes that Futenma is so dangerous that it is a wonder accidents do not occur. Such a facility must not be left unchanged.
We wish to once again drive home that there is no other choice at this juncture but to take the Henoko relocation plan back to the drawing board. The change of plan this time should be made the starting point of moving away from discussions that are getting nowhere.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 10
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