Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Opinion: Time for Japan to rethink Okinawa base issue with Trump

By Akira Kimura Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/8 18:53:39

US President-elect Donald Trump, who has astounded the world during the election, is to be sworn in on January 20. It remains to be seen how much of his rhetoric will be translated into policy, but there is no doubt that the Trump presidency will bring seismic change to the world. And this offers Japan a chance to break away from its military alliance with the US and substantially address the US base situation in Okinawa.

Trump claimed during his campaign that he would withdraw US troops from Japan unless the country paid more to host them. He thought that with the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan, Tokyo had earmarked the spending supposed to be used in defense for economic development. In other words, Japan has taken a free ride on the US security policy and gained unilaterally.

But this is Trump's misconception, as shown by statistics. Japan has paid nearly 70 percent of the expense in hosting the US troops and cannot afford more. 

Yet Tokyo is bound to continue to try its utmost financially to keep the US troops in Japan. Trump's remarks brought out a long-hidden fact - some Japanese politicians and officials are attempting to prevent the US from downsizing or even pulling out its troops stationed in their country.

The relocation of the US airbase in Futenma, which has been debated for more than 20 years, is one of the key issues in the Japan-US security relations.

The controversy started in 1995, when a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl was raped by three US servicemen on the island, sparking strong protests by locals.

Walter Mondale, then US ambassador to Japan, confirmed that in face of the protests, the US had planned to considerably cut the US troops in Japan, but it was opposed severely by Tokyo. This has shown where Japan stands regarding these kinds of issues.

The US has held that moving the base to less populated Henoko is the only solution in this situation, but this stance may be altered by Trump. Those experts on Japanese affairs in Washington like Richard Armitage, former US deputy secretary of state, and Michael Green, a senior advisor of Asian affairs to George W. Bush, had gone all out to try to bar Trump from being elected and at some point, hinted at the significant impact that Trump's presidency may exert on the Japan-US military alliance.

As the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement implies, Japan is subordinate to the US under their security agreement. Okinawa has the duo identity of being a colony to both the US and Japan, in which case people on the island are forcibly sacrificed to the US-Japan military alliance.

It has been deeply ingrained that the bilateral security deal cannot be waived that Japanese diplomacy and defense officials in the administration of Yukio Hatoyama even catered to the US by defying their leaders.

To some degree, stationing US troops in Okinawa has gone beyond the needs of US' Far East strategy and Japan's defense, and has become a symbol of a perpetual military relationship where Japan is subordinate to the US.

To put an end to this, Hatoyama once proposed that the US send troops to Japan only when necessary instead of a constant military presence in the country.

I think the Japanese government should give a careful thought to the proposal. For starters, Tokyo needs to walk away from the previous stance of dealing with the regional security issue with force provided by the US. After all, Asia will be rid of the possibilities of war only when the region becomes a community with a common destiny.

On all accounts, the imminent alteration of US policy on Asia by Trump opens a window for Japan to find a final solution to the debate over the US airbase in Okinawa.

I hope the Japanese government can tightly grab onto the opportunity. 

The author is a professor of Kagoshima University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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