Japan to buy an island

The Japanese government is planning to buy a southwestern island, regarded as a candidate U.S. military training site, by March end of the current fiscal year, government sources said.

Background

The relationship between the US and Japan began in the late 18th and early 19th century, with the diplomatic but force-backed missions of U.S. ship captains James Glynn and Matthew C. Perry to the Tokugawa shogunate.

A new military alliance treaty was formed after the end of World War 2 and an exchange of technology and culture produced a strong alliance. The countries' trade relationship has particularly prospered since then, with Japanese automobiles and consumer electronics being especially popular.

From the late 20th century and onwards, the United States and Japan have a firm and very active political, economic and military relationships. The United States considers Japan to be one of its closest allies and partners and Japan is one of the most pro-American nations in the world.

Okinawa is the site of major American military bases that have caused problems, as Japanese and Okinawans have protested their presence for decades. In secret negotiations that began in 1969 Washington sought unrestricted use of its bases for possible conventional combat operations in Korea, Taiwan, and South Vietnam, as well as the emergency re-entry and transit rights of nuclear weapons.

Analysis

According to the sources, the government is expected to acquire the island of Mageshima in Kagoshima Prefecture for some ¥16 billion. The island is a candidate site for relocating field carrier landing practice (FCLP) operations for U.S. carrier-borne aircraft, which will be carried out as part of a realignment plan for the U.S. military in Japan.

A senior official at the Japanese Defense Ministry said that the government “will need to be able to offer an explanation on the purchase price during parliamentary deliberations.” With a total area of around 8 square kilometres, the uninhabited island is located some 12 kilometres west of the island of Tanegashima.

In 2011, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to consider moving to Mageshima the site for FCLP operations from Iwoto, also known as Iwo Jima, a Pacific island belonging to Tokyo. The agreement is in line with a decision to transfer U.S. carrier-based aircraft from the Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Following the agreement, the Japanese government started negotiations with the island’s owner, a Tokyo-based land developer. The discussions, however, ran into trouble as there was a tenfold difference between the price suggested by the government and the amount requested by the firm.

Once the government concludes a sales contract, the ministry plans to immediately start work on building facilities for the Self-Defense Forces on the island. The facilities will also be accessible to U.S. forces. Tokyo has already set aside ¥596 million in expenditures related to the island, including those for environmental impact assessments, under the government’s draft budget for fiscal 2019.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told a news conference on Tuesday that the facilities for FCLP operations “are needed as soon as possible.” “We’ll continue to work steadily on preparing permanent facilities,” he added.

Japanese and American activists staged a rally recently in front of the White House calling for a halt to landfill work for building a U.S. base extending off Okinawa Island. About 30 activists gathered after a petition urging U.S. President Donald Trump to halt the work accumulated more than 195,000 signatures in 30 days — well over the 100,000 threshold that makes it mandatory for the White House to issue a response.

There was an Okinawa prefectural referendum on the Japan-U.S. plan to relocate operations currently performed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less-populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago. It is assumed that Japan’s decision to buy an island was influenced by the outcome of the prefectural referendum.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Japan is fulfilling its financial obligations of the US-Japan military alliance by purchasing an island solely for the US military to use. We believe that this will reduce the congestion in Okinawa island and will ensure seamless operations of the US military in the region.