Wednesday, February 03, 2010

US envoy to discuss Japan bases

US envoy to discuss Japan bases

Monday, February 01, 2010
08:47 Mecca time, 05:47 GMT

The US assistant secretary of state for East Asia is due to arrive in Tokyo on Monday for talks on the future of American military bases in Japan.

Kurt Campbell's visit comes after thousands of people from across Japan joined protests at the weekend against plans to relocate a US base on the southern island of Okinawa.

Some 47,000 US troops are stationed in Japan, with more than half on the island.

Local residents have long complained about noise, pollution and crime around the bases.

In 2006, the two countries signed a pact that called for the realignment of American troops in the country and for a marine base on the island to be moved to a less populated area.

But the newly elected Japanese government is re-examining the deal, caught between increasing public opposition to US troops and its crucial military alliance with Washington.

'Cornerstone' alliance

Last month Campbell called on Japan to stick to the 2006 deal and relocate the US Futenma air base in Okinawa.

In written testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee on January 21, Campbell said the alliance with Japan was a "cornerstone" of the US engagement in Asia.

Campbell also reiterated Washington's desire to see that the US Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma be transferred to another area on the island by 2014.

He said the US is assisting the Japanese government, led by prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, with its review of the Futenma relocation plan.

Decision postponed

However, Hatoyama has repeatedly postponed his decision on the pact, with members of his own government divided on how to proceed.

Last week, he pledged to resolve the issue by May, just before national elections.

But the issue is a difficult one for the prime minister to juggle, with members of his coalition government calling for all US troops to leave Japan.

At a rally against the base, Mizuho Fukushima, a minister in Hatoyama's cabinet, told a crowd protesters that she wants to see the Okinawa base closed and US troops moved out of Japan entirely.

Meanwhile, opposition to the US-Japan pact is growing louder, as thousands marched through central Tokyo on Saturday.

Labor unionists, pacifists, environmentalists and students called for an end to the US troop presence.

They gathered for a rally at a park, under a banner that read "Change! Japan-U.S. Relations".

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