U.S., Japan Announce Bilateral Okinawa Consolidation Plan
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2013 Today’s announcement that the U.S. and Japanese governments have agreed on a plan to reduce the U.S. footprint on Okinawa is the latest step for the U.S. and Japanese governments as they continue efforts to strengthen their alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, a senior Pentagon official said.
Amy Searight, principal director for East Asia policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, told American Forces Press Service the U.S. forces will remain operationally ready as they implement the Okinawa Consolidation Plan. “This is a milestone in our progress towards realigning our forces in Okinawa,” she said.
The document outlining the bilateral agreement will detail how the United States returns specific lands to Japan based on the completion of certain procedures.
“There are actually three categories of returns that are designated in this plan,” she said: lands that are available for immediate return upon completion of the necessary procedures, areas eligible for return once the replacement facilities in Okinawa are provided, and areas eligible for return as U.S. Marine Corps forces relocate from Okinawa to locations outside of Japan.
The Okinawa Consolidation Plan outlines the exact sequencing of steps needed for each piece of property currently occupied by U.S. forces in Okinawa to be returned, Searight added. The plan also has “best-case” estimates for dates for property to be returned, contingent on the conditions being met, she said.
Japan has also reconfirmed its responsibility to relocate to other facilities on Okinawa required functions and capabilities currently resident on U.S. facilities designated for return. Another important aspect of the plan identifies each government’s individual responsibilities in the steps to facilitate the land returns, Searight noted.
“The dates are characterized in a way that is clear that they are ‘no sooner than,’ … for example, Japan fiscal year 2020,” she said.
Searight said progress on the implementation of the plan will be periodically reviewed to ensure the dates are still accurate.
“We have language in this agreement that clearly specifies that the U.S. and Japanese governments agree that no further significant changes will be required for the foreseeable future,” she said.
Searight noted the consolidation plan and the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan are all part of the Asia-Pacific rebalance, announced in January 2012 in the Defense Strategic Guidance.
“I think this really strengthens our position in the long run, and it also makes it clear how closely the United States and Japanese governments are working together to make this an alliance that will last for generations,” she said.
“It should give many people in the region confidence that our alliance is stronger than ever,” she added. “It only bodes well for other areas where we can really strengthen our partnership with Japan.”
Searight acknowledged the announcement of a detailed consolidation plan for Okinawa has been a “real sticking point” in the past, and “it’s drained a lot of our attention and our political focus.”
“We’ll now be able to fully turn our attention to working together to address the big strategic issues facing the region,” she added.