COMMENTARY | The stalled negotiations over the relocation of thousands of U.S. Marines from Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam have resulted in both countries agreeing to a revised plan, according to various news sources .
The Obama administration intends to move 4,700 of the 8,000 Okinawa-based Marines to Guam, while the remainder would be distributed according to military planning needs in Darwin, Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii.
The initial plan, hammered out by the U.S. and Japan in 2006, included a provision that about 8,000 Marines and approximately 9,000 of their dependents would be moved permanently to Guam to decrease the burden Okinawa has assumed for decades in providing a home for tens of thousands of U.S. forces.
This was contingent on a substitute for some functions of the Futenma air base-located in the city of Ginowan-being constructed in Henoko, a more sparsely populated area. However, it now appears certain that the resolution of the Futenma conflict will come at a later date.
Okinawa, which accounts for a mere 0.6 percent of Japan’s land area, hosts about half of all U.S. military forces in country. U.S. military bases and other facilities occupy in excess of 10 percent of Okinawa Prefecture’s usable land area.
The proposed new base drew immediate and stiff opposition from Okinawans who objected to any additional base facilities on the island, and the negative impact they could have on the environment around Henoko. More specifically, protesters are gravely concerned about the sensitive coral reefs in the adjacent waters and endangered sea life. This issue has not only worried Okinawans, but many others worldwide.
As the realignment of U.S. forces in the Pacific evolves, the U.S. is keeping a wary eye on China’s growing military might. It is preparing contingency plans to project U.S. military power where needed in the future to protect U.S. interests and its allies. This includes Japan’s need for a robust U.S. military presence on Okinawa for decades to come.
Japan is embroiled in a dispute with China over sovereignty of the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea-just over 400 kilometers to the west of Okinawa. This ongoing row over the uninhabited islands is a major issue due to both nations’ desire to acquire the mineral wealth, especially the oil fields, located under the oceans surrounding the Senkakus, which have little value other than their strategic location.
China has made aggressive moves lately to access oil and natural gas in areas that Japan considers part of its Exclusive Economic Zone and has ignored Japan’s protests of a violation of its territory, even though both nations agreed in 2008 to joint development of the oil fields.