Japan to cough up $3.1 bil to move U.S. Marines to Guam

High-level talks in Tokyo have led to a Japanese commitment to shell out $3.1 billion to help cover costs of moving thousands of U.S. Marines from Okinawa.

The protocol amending the 2009 Guam International Agreement came as part of meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori

Last year the United States modified its pledge to move 9,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, instead announcing 4,000 would go to Guam, while the other 5,000 will participate in unit rotational deployments to Australia, and moving some to Hawaii.  This week, the two governments announced changes that include “clarifying that Japan will contribute up to $3.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 U.S. dollars in direct cash contributions to develop facilities and infrastructure in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands”, the state department said.

That accounts for 36% of the projected $8.6 billion cost of the relocation. The protocol also reconfirmed that the U.S. government “shall favorably consider requests by the government of Japan to use training areas in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

About half of the U.S. military forces in Japan are based in Okinawa.  Okinawa has repeatedly called for reductions in its military burden, and both Tokyo and the U.S. concur that it’s imperative steps be taken to reduce those tensions.  The 47,000 military personnel in Japan include some at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, a serious irritant to Okinawa, which wants the base moved.

The U.S. and Japan have settled on a site in northern Okinawa, on Camp Schwab, with two V-shape runways extending into Oura Bay.  That agreement came in 2006, but everything from economic to environmental concerns has stalled the project.  Now, all eyes are on Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, who’s poised to make a decision on Tokyo’s request for land reclamation, which will pave the way for the project to move forward.  His decision is due as early as December.

Moving the Marines is part of President Barack Obama’s plans for realigning forces in the Asia-Pacific region.  The plan separates the Futenma issue from that of relocating the Marines from Okinawa.