Donald Trump took office as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. After hearing the remarks he made during the presidential campaign questioning the fairness of Japan’s host nation support for the U.S. military presence, the Okinawan people hoped that the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko might be reviewed. However, new Defense Secretary James Mattis aims to enhance the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and reportedly wants to proceed with the Henoko relocation, for which reconstruction was recently restarted. Secretary Mattis also reportedly wants to move forward with the plan to relocate Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
A U.S. Defense Deparment source who was in charge of preparing Mattis’s testimony for his confirmation hearing at Congress told the Okinawa Times: “There are growing risks in the Asia-Pacific region with China’s military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.” The source went on to say: “Mattis emphasized the importance of maintaining and strengthening the U.S. military presence in the region. Relocating Okinawa Marines to Guam as planned will enhance the U.S. military presence in the region and also benefit U.S. national interests.”
Regarding the fact that Congress has previously questioned the increase in the costs of relocating Marines to Guam, the source pointed out that Mattis included in his written testimony responses to questions from Congress on the matter, with an eye to laying out his basic stance. “To dispel the concerns of Congress on the matter, it is necessary to review, in light of Trump’s views, whether Japan is being asked to shoulder a fair amount of the costs related to the relocation,” said Mattis at the hearing. “Review of the burden ratio between the U.S. and Japan could lead to the acceleration of the relocation.”
A U.S. Defense Department source who was in charge of the Henoko relocation project under former Defense Secretary Carter said: “The legal battle between the national and Okinawan governments has ended, and construction has resumed. Mattis also realizes that smoothly moving forward with the Henoko relocation will lead to the reduction of Okinawa’s base-hosting burden.”
The source also pointed out that joint exercises between Japan and the U.S. and building a structure for bilateral military cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region will be promoted now that the SDF’s roles have been expanded following the reinterpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan the right to exercise collective self-defense. “Okinawa will take on more importance with the SDF’s enhanced deployment in the Sakishima Islands,” said the source.