Japan Approves U.S. Leases on Okinawa
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 23, 1997 U.S. forces will continue leasing Okinawan land based on legislation approved April 17 by Japan's parliament, the Diet.
Without this legislation, current U.S. leases were due to expire May 14. Controversy over renewing the leases developed because of the burden U.S. forces place on local communities. Japanese opposition intensified after three U.S. service members raped an Okinawan schoolgirl last year.
About 47,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, and the United States is committed to maintaining U.S. forces in the region, DoD officials said.
"We are committed to being good neighbors in Okinawa, but we also want the Asia-Pacific to be a good neighborhood full of peace and prosperity," said Kurt Campbell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs.
"We believe it is important at this critical juncture in Asian-Pacific relations for the United States to remain vigilant, forward-deployed at about 100,000," Campbell said. "Not only is the Asia-Pacific a dynamic region, it is a delicate region as well, and U.S. forces are present not just to respond to potential conflicts, but to shape the security environment in such a way as to prevent the possibility of conflict."
The U.S. commitment to maintaining the U.S.-Japan security alliance is mirrored by the Japanese government, said Okinawa Governor Ota Masahide at a Pentagon briefing April 17. Ota said the Okinawan people do not want to abolish the security alliance, but they have a "feeling of insecurity arising from the operations of the bases and living close to the bases," Ota said. "There is a need to prevent untoward incidents and accidents."
DoD officials have taken steps to reduce the U.S. military's footprint on local communities, Campbell said. This includes reducing noise around airfields and eliminating some night flights and flights on days local students are taking tests. Military officials have reduced or eliminated marching on the streets and routine artillery firing in certain areas. The United States is returning about 20 percent of the land formerly used for training. Future plans include housing U.S. helicopter operations on an off-shore facility.
"We agree that the government and the people of Okinawa bear a burden, but these are at least initial steps to help balance the burden more equitably," Campbell said. "These are all designed to be better neighbors, to create a better environment for the people of Okinawa."
U.S. defense officials are committed to further increasing dialogue with the people of Okinawa and taking steps to improve cultural understanding and be aware of political sensitivities, Campbell said.