Tokyo to step up self defence as US cuts military presence

Tokyo and Washington have agreed to cut the number of US marines stationed in Japan by 7,000 as part of wide-ranging plans under which Japan’s self-defence forces will play a bigger role in defending the country. The agreement, signed in Washington on Saturday, followed intense negotiations last week to wrap up ponderous discussions over the locations and functions of US bases. Failure to agree on details, part of the US’s global strategy to reduce the size but increase the mobility of its forces, had been putting a severe strain on otherwise good US-Japanese relations.

The idea is to reduce the burden on Japanese citizens, especially in the southern island of Okinawa, who have protested against the noise, danger and elevated crime they associate with US bases.

To compensate, Japan is being asked to overcome some of the constraints of its pacifist constitution by co-operating more closely in joint security.

The two countries agreed to improve the inter- operability of their forces by shifting the headquarters of the US First Army Corps from Washington state to Camp Zama, near Tokyo. They will also share more intelligence.

Other pillars of the agreement include construction of a new heliport in strategically vital Okinawa to accommodate marines displaced from the island’s Futenma base.

The headquarters of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force will move from Okinawa to Guam. Japan will pay the substantial costs involved in the heliport construction and troop redeployment.

Japan has also agreed to house a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Yokosuka port, near Tokyo, from 2008, a decision announced on Friday that provoked strong protest from local residents and politicians.

Many of the most important elements of the deal, have yet to be squared with local authorities. Politicians from both Okinawa and Zama have joined those from Yokosuka in vowing to fight the decisions.

Richard Lawless, the US deputy undersecretary of defence who led Washington’s negotiations, said Japan needed to do more to make the US-Japan security alliance more equal.

He said Tokyo had taken many significant steps in the past decade, such as sending troops to Iraq and signing up to joint missile defence. But he described such steps as “modest” in the context of Japan’s capabilities.

Yoshinori Ohno, head of the defence agency, said in an interview with the Financial Times last week, that Japan benefited from stability, including in the Middle East, and was obliged to play a bigger role.

“Japan must transit from being a peace-loving nation to becoming a peace-supporting nation," he said, Financial Times reported. V.A.

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