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     May 2, 2012

US, Japan: Not quite 20-20 vision
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - United States President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday pledged to boost their security alliance to maintain peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region - a move intended to counter China's military buildup and North Korea's erratic belligerence.

Noda became Japan's first premier to formally meet with Obama in Washington since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in September 2009. Amid Japan's revolving door of prime ministers who tend to resign after very short tenures, Noda is the sixth national leader in as many years - he assumed office in September 2011.

After their 60-minute summit, the two leaders issued a joint statement titled "A Shared Vision for the Future", [1] the first of its kind since June 2006 when then-US president George W Bush and prime minister Junichiro Koizumi issued a joint statement


titled "The Japan-US Alliance of the New Century".

"Our joint vision lays out the future we seek in the Asia-Pacific - a region where international rules and norms are upheld, where nations contribute to regional security, where commerce and freedom of navigation is not impeded and where disputes are resolved peacefully," Obama said a press conference, apparently aiming to keep in check fast-growing China's naval power.

Although the two governments have stressed to develop a shared vision for the future, there appear to be some differences in their positions.

While the US still cares about the so-called asymmetric threats such as terrorism, unconventional guerrilla warfare and cyber-attacks from a long-term strategic standpoint of its global defense posture, Japan is tactically trying to solve individual problems such as the burden of US military bases carried mostly by the people in Okinawa.

On the defense front, the two leaders particularly hailed last week's new agreement [2] to realign American forces in Japan.

The US and Japan on April 26 unveiled a revised agreement to transfer 9,000 US Marine Corps troops from Okinawa prefecture to Guam and other bases in the western Pacific: a move intended to reduce the impact of US bases on the southern Japanese island chain.

The accord, which updates a 2006 agreement on the realignment of US forces in Japan, will relocate about 5,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam - a US territory - and the remaining 2,500 to Darwin of Australia, and 1,500 to Hawaii. About 10,000 troops will remain in Okinawa.

"This reflects our effort to modernize America's defense posture in the Asia-Pacific with forces that are more broadly distributed, more flexible and more sustainable," Obama said at the White House on Monday. "At the same time, it will reduce the impact on local communities, like Okinawa."

Last week's agreement for the first time introduced the new concept of "bilateral dynamic defense cooperation", which includes timely and effective joint training, joint surveillance and reconnaissance activities, as well as joint and shared use of facilities for US forces and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF).

Specifically, the two governments affirmed to consider co-developing training areas in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, such as Tinian and Pagan islands, for US forces and the JSDF. Both governments plan to identify specific areas of cooperation by the end of this year.

However, the JSDF working routinely with US forces in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region could lead to the use of forces outside Japan, which the nation's pacifist constitution strictly prohibits.

Despite such concerns, there has been no national debate in the Diet (parliament) on dynamic defense cooperation, and no effort by the Noda administration to build a people's consensus.

For Japan, which is in poor financial shape among developed countries - its government debt has reaching 230% of gross domestic product - the ever-increasing burden of the realignment of US forces is becoming a big problem in Tokyo.

The two governments last week said the total cost of relocating marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam would be lowered to US$8.6 billion from the original $10.27 billion. However, the cost to Japan has risen from a maximum of $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion, compensating for inflation.

The Japanese share of costs includes building expenses for land, housing, schools and other facilities in Guam as well as the costs of developing the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, such as Tinian Island, where, as an historical irony, two B-29s took off to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

If those facilities were to be created inside its own territory, Japanese people would be content to incur such huge costs. But now, as if Tokyo had become an automated teller machine for the US, the facilities are being built outside Japan.

Thanks in part to Japan's money, Guam will have its largest military presence since the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s when US Air Force B-52s made daily bombing runs from bases on the island.

In addition, the Japanese government has even pledged to pay refurbishment costs for the controversial Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, until a sea-based replacement facility off Camp Schwab is constructed on the north of the island. The local government has demanded the closure of the Futenma site, which is situated in a built-up area, instead of doing maintenance and repairs on it.

"Japan has always shared the financial burden of the US forces innocuously," Japanese military analyst Toshiyuki Shikata told Asia Times Online on Tuesday. "In the past decades, then ruling Liberal Democratic Party also did the same thing, so it also cannot complain about this now. It would be much better if we could use such money for our own defense."

1. See here.
2. See here.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke

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