U.S. bases in Okinawa thorny issue for U.S.-Japan alliance

Recent incidents involving U.S. personnel stationed in Japan’s Okinawa have led to increased opposition to U.S. presence in Japan and stood as a thorny issue in U.S.-Japan alliance.

Japan has been an essential ally to Washington in its “pivot to Asia” policy but both sides face challenges in handling the popular sentiments.

Last month, a 32-year-old U.S. base worker allegedly involved in the death of a local woman was arrested. According to police sources, the suspect has confessed to sexually assaulting and killing the victim, but is currently being held only for dumping the woman’s body.

To quell local resentment toward U.S. personnel in Japan, the U.S. forces in Okinawa recently imposed a midnight curfew and an alcohol ban off the base for a month.

But that doesn’t terminate the misbehavior of the U.S. personnel in Japan. A couple of days later, a female U.S. officer was arrested for alleged drunken driving that led to the injury of two people, one seriously, according to Okinawa police.

The U.S. Navy intensified disciplinary measures, announcing an alcohol ban for all U.S. sailors stationed in Japan, both on and off the base, for an indefinite period, U.S. Naval Forces Japan said in a statement.

But that doesn’t see the abating of negative local sentiments toward the U.S. Navy. On Monday, candidates in favor of the removal of the U.S. military base from Okinawa won a majority in the prefectural assembly elections on the southern island, another proof of the spillover of the recent two cases.

Both the Japanese and American decision-makers are forced to face the music, while in the meantime trying their best to justify U.S. military presence in Japan.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said on Monday that the Defense Department will fully cooperate with the Japanese government on the investigation into the drunken driving case and on preventing a recurrence of such unhappy incidents.

These restrictions will help prevent future incidents by ensuring that each service member understands how their actions affect the U.S.-Japan alliance, Cook said.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged on Monday to speed up the work of reviewing the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. “We will swiftly compile effective measures” to help prevent crimes involving U.S. personnel, Abe told the government and officials of the ruling party.

Since taking effect in 1960, the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement stipulates that Japanese prosecutors couldn’t file a suit against U.S. personnel suspected of committing crimes at duty. The American side will do the prosecution in their stead, which, in a way, has encouraged the American’s wrongdoings.

The deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Japan is part of the arrangements aimed to maintain the post-World War II international order. However, it has not been without challenges as popular sentiments favoring the normalization of Japan as a military power have been on the rise. Japan also has to shoulder about 8.8 billion U.S. dollars of U.S. military expenses in Japan, in five years starting from the 2016 fiscal year, up 130,000 dollars from the previous five-year period.

Owing to the opposition of the local residents on Okinawa, an agreement reached between the United States and Japan to relocate the U.S. Navy’s Futenma air base to a less populous part of Okinawa has long been shelved.

Of the total 47,000 U.S. personnel stationed in Japan, more than half are stationed on the southern tiny island of Okinawa. (Xinhua)