- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

ZAMA, JAPAN — This Tokyo suburb learned two years ago that the headquarters of the U.S. 1st Army Corps would relocate from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Camp Zama. Mayor Katsuji Hoshino and Zama residents formed a group opposing the plan.

Mr. Hoshino met more than 10 times with Yoshinori Ohno, chief of Japan’s Defense Agency, and was told repeatedly that the government would not agree to a U.S. military realignment without consulting with local leaders.

But the Japanese government did agree, and without Mr. Hoshino’s consent.

“I could not believe it. I could not accept the way the government handled this matter,” Mr. Hoshino said. “I now distrust the government.”

Mr. Ohno, now a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker in the House of Representatives, said the government should have consulted local leaders such as Mr. Hoshino before agreeing to U.S. proposals.

“It’s undesirable to go forward without the agreement of local governments,” Mr. Ohno said. “It’s ideal to go forward when we have their support.”

He said he could have negotiated with Mr. Hoshino behind the scenes, but the mayor insisted on holding public meetings with other city officials present.

In addition, Mr. Ohno said, he had to make the decision soon and announce it in Washington.

Mayors defiant

Politicians and residents near Camp Zama, where the Army Component Command of the U.S. forces in Japan is stationed, have criticized an October agreement for U.S. military transformation and realignment as well as an interim report that includes a “military buildup” in the city.

The report says the command structure of U.S. Army Japan at Camp Zama will be modernized. Some elements of the 1st Army Corps will be relocated to the camp, and headquarters of Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces Central Readiness Force Command will be established.

Residents of Zama and Sagamihara, the two cities that host Camp Zama, fear that the moves will expand the camp and make it permanent. Some of them have sent a letter asking Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to withdraw the plan.

In Sagamihara, Mayor Isao Ogawa told residents: “I remain opposed, even if I get hit by an armored vehicle.”

Mr. Hoshino told more than 1,500 protesters in mid-November: “I stick to my opposition, even if I am hit by a missile.”

Zama residents wonder why U.S. military forces have to be relocated to one of the most densely populated areas in Japan. About 128,000 people live in Zama, where the population density is 18,865 people per square mile — twice that of Washington, D.C., which has 9,316 people per square mile.

Camp Zama occupies 3.5 percent of the city, 25 miles southwest of Tokyo.

The plan would add 300 American military personnel to the 1,300 already stationed at the camp.

Cooperation emphasized

Toshiyuki Shikata, a retired Ground Self-Defense Forces general who teaches law at Teikyo University in Tokyo, applauds a move he calls “significant.”

He said improvements to the U.S. Army’s command structure should have little adverse effect on nearby communities, and that establishing a Ground Self-Defense Forces command center at Zama will help Japanese forces work more closely with the Americans.

“It’s important that they have coordination and cooperation on a regular basis, since they are increasingly required to respond quickly in emergencies,” Mr. Shikata said.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, agrees.

Moving the 1st Army Corps to Camp Zama “does show maturing strategic partnership between Tokyo and Washington,” Mr. Carpenter said.

Critics of the alliance say the Japanese government appears to have no policy of its own.

“I oppose Japan’s strengthening the military alliance with the United States without the latter reflecting on its own conduct during the Iraq war,” said Yogo Nomoto, a leader of EcoAction 21 in Kanagawa. “It’s a shame that some of the soldiers who fought in Iraq were sent from Japan.”

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, “As long as Japan maintains good relations with the U.S., our relations with other countries come along OK.”

Communities uneasy

Meanwhile, a replacement for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is to be built in Nago, Okinawa, over strong Okinawan opposition. Relocating the airfield is the focal point of the U.S. military realignment in Japan, which also includes shifting 7,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The United States and Japan agreed in 1996 that Washington would return the congested urban Futenma site within seven years in exchange for a replacement facility.

Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, who took office Wednesday, said he is ready to talk with Tokyo about the plan.

The United States and Japan are expected to complete a final report on military realignment by the end of next month, but Japanese leaders are having difficulties persuading local communities to accept the plan.

In late December, the governors of 14 prefectures that host U.S. military facilities held a symposium in Tokyo to demand that the Japanese government negotiate with Washington in a way that reflects the wishes of affected residents.

Mr. Rumsfeld ruled out any change in plans.

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