Tokyo and Washington have agreed to move 4,700 Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam in a bid to revive a stalled plan for the realignment of US forces in Japan, according to reports.
The two countries in 2006 agreed to the transfer of around 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to the US territory of Guam and the relocation of an air base on Okinawa but the move has been delayed as Tokyo struggles to convince Okinawans to accept the deal.
The US Defense Department is now considering shifting the remaining 3,300 Marines to elsewhere in the Pacific, such as Hawaii, Australia and the Philippines, Kyodo News reported on Sunday, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.
Senior Japanese and US foreign and defence officials will meet in Washington on Monday, with the two governments expected to announce details of the transfer on February 13, Kyodo and the Asahi Shimbun daily said.
Tokyo has struggled to convince Okinawans to accept the plan to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, part of the realignment package.
Many Okinawans, angry at having for decades shouldered the burden of hosting more than half of the 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan, oppose the plan which would relocate the US base to another part of the island.
They say another part of Japan should take the base, instead of Henoko on the east coast of Okinawa, where Tokyo and Washington have agreed to build a giant runway-on-stilts in the sea.
The move to transfer Marines to Guam may compromise Tokyo’s position because Japanese government officials had used it as leverage to convince Okinawa to accept the base relocation, the Asahi said.
The new development in the realignment programme may possibly end up leaving the airstrip where it is, in a crowded urban area of the island near dozens of schools and hospitals, the Asahi said.