Sunday, November 22, 2009

Trim East Asia presence, US urged

Trim East Asia presence, US urged

Monday, 23 November 2009

TOKYO: The United States should consider reducing its military presence in the East Asian region, an official said here over the weekend. According to Kazuo Kodama, spokesman for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United States would still be capable of ensuring security in the region even if it realigned its forces because it possesses strategic weapons.

His advice came at a time when Japan was reviewing an agreement with the US on Washington’s bases stationed in Okinawa and pushing for a US bases relocation roadmap.

“Even if they [US] transferred the bases or realigned the deployment in nearby countries, let’s say outside Okinawa or even outside Japan such as in Guam, they could still easily respond to the security concerns of the nearby countries whenever needed because they are well-equipped,” Kodama told Asian journalists.

Like Japan, the Philippines used to host US bases until the Philippine Senate voted against it in 1991. The absence of US forces, however, did not last a decade when Manila entered into a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Washington in 1999.

The VFA allows US troops to train and advise the Philippine military in its fight against terrorism, but it prohibits participation of US forces in combat operations.

It also lets deployment of US forces to Mindanao under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, which provides immediate medical assistance to Filipino soldiers who are wounded in the battlefield.

Communist and separatist insurgencies in southern Philippines have lingered for nearly four decades.

Kodama disclosed that US bases in Okinawa are located near shopping malls and as such, have become a burden for Okinawans.

“We want to reduce American footprint by relocating the US bases since [the bases] have become dangerous for the people. Japan thinks that the time has come to explore that possibility,” he said.

In the case of the Philippines, the VFA drew flak when US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was initially found guilty of raping a Filipino woman known only as “Nicole” in 2006. Smith was briefly detained in a Philippine jail before being transferred in the US Embassy in Manila. He was later acquitted by the Philippines’ Court of Appeals in April 2009 and is believed to have returned to the US.

Kodama, however, stressed that Japan, as well as the rest of the East Asian region, still needs US forces for security.

He cited North Korea’s nuclear power and continued missile tests and territorial disputes such as those between China and Russia and between China and Taiwan.

“The deployment of US forces in East Asia helps in maintaining security and stability. We do not dispute that statement. Let us not forget that the ‘Cold War’ is not yet over here,” Kodama said.

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