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American TimesJapan-US status agreement is key

Japan-US status agreement is key

U.S. Marines at a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.  (Photo by Reuters)
U.S. Marines at a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan. (Photo by Reuters)


The epidemic in Japan is heating up rapidly, and the rapid spread of the epidemic in the US military base is the most serious. The Japanese government decided on January 7 to implement “spread prevention measures” for Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima prefectures. Experts believe that the “Japan-U.S. Status Agreement” allows the U.S. military not to abide by Japan’s epidemic prevention and quarantine norms, resulting in the rapid expansion of the epidemic. Information exchange and coordination should be carried out as soon as possible.

The expansion of the epidemic exposes the management problems of the base

The Japanese government decided at the meeting of the Countermeasures Headquarters on the afternoon of January 7 to implement “spread prevention measures” from the 9th of this month, which will be applied to the three counties of Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi where the epidemic has rapidly expanded.

Since the end of last year, the new crown epidemic in Japan has resumed. On January 6, the number of new cases in the country exceeded 4,000, which increased by about 9 times in a week. Among them, Okinawa Prefecture is the most serious, with 981 new cases on January 6, setting a single-day record; Hiroshima Prefecture has 273 people, and Yamaguchi Prefecture also hit a record 181.

Toshio Nakagawa, president of the Japan Medical Association, believes that the epidemic has entered the “sixth wave”.

Since the end of last year, the daily number of confirmed cases in Okinawa Prefecture has climbed to 40 to 50, and the infection situation has deteriorated rapidly since the beginning of this year. At present, the cumulative number of confirmed cases at US military bases in Okinawa Prefecture has exceeded 4,000.

The epidemic also spread outside the U.S. military base. Okinawa Prefecture Governor Danny Tamaki pointed out at a press conference on January 2 that the U.S. military was undoubtedly one of the causes. Okinawa.”

The Okinawa prefectural government has repeatedly requested the U.S. military and the Japanese and U.S. governments to implement anti-epidemic measures. However, some people have witnessed that U.S. military personnel did not wear masks to move outside the base, and there were also cases of suspected drunk driving.

Former U.S. Marine Corps Pacific Base Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Robert Eldridge (Photo credit: Robert Eldridge)
Former U.S. Marine Corps Pacific Base Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Robert Eldridge (Photo credit: Robert Eldridge)

Robert Eldridge, the former deputy minister of foreign affairs for the US Marine Corps Pacific Base, believes that the residents near the US military base in Japan support the US-Japan alliance, but the emerging emergencies and management problems inevitably make it difficult for the US-Japan alliance. Residents are disgusted with the US military stationed in Japan.

“Accidents caused by military planes, trucks, boats, or the personal vehicles of American personnel stationed in Japan can upset local residents and officials; mistakes in training, such as misplacement of ordnance, misplaced bullets,” he told VOA. Shooting, parachute landing errors, etc., as well as the criminal acts of the US military stationed in Japan or their families, will make local residents angry; about 1/3 of the military land in Okinawa Prefecture is privately owned by the US military, which is also the reason for the long-term dissatisfaction of local residents and officials. Because of the surge in the number of confirmed cases at US military bases and the spillover of the epidemic, residents and officials are unacceptable for the lack of transparency and cooperation between the United States and Japan in epidemic prevention.”

Eldridge pointed out that many Japanese wanted no foreign troops stationed in Japan. They hope that Japan is strong enough to defend itself, or that the situation in the region is stable enough to keep military tensions and troops to a minimum. The rapidly heating up situation of the current epidemic is undoubtedly strengthening the local people’s doubts and disgust towards the US military base, and also exposing various management problems of the base.

Fumiaki Nozoe, a professor at Okinawa International University, agrees. In an interview with VOA, he pointed out that the Japanese generally did not like the presence of foreign troops after World War II, but judging from the current situation around Japan and the situation of the Self-Defense Forces, the Japanese knew that they had to accept the presence of US troops stationed in Japan. exist. He said that although some unfair systems left over from the past would be offensive, the current impression of the US military is not bad.

Noso Wenbin said: “Even in Okinawa, there is a tendency for young people to have a positive attitude towards the Japan-U.S. alliance and the necessity of the U.S. military base. Everyone has a good impression of individual U.S. soldiers. In fact, the concentration of U.S. military bases in Okinawa caused the The sense of injustice is a feeling handed down from the post-war era. This is a historical burden and has nothing to do with the performance of the U.S. military stationed in Japan. Most of the local residents want to reduce the number of U.S. military bases, rather than completely abolishing the U.S. military bases.”

Okinawa International University professor Wenbin Yeo (Photo courtesy: Wenbin Yeo)
Okinawa International University professor Wenbin Yeo (Photo courtesy: Wenbin Yeo)

In addition, Ye Tian Wenbin also pointed out that although residents have a generally good impression of the U.S. military, after the epidemic spread, the U.S. military moved outside the base without wearing masks, which really made the residents very dissatisfied, and also made the local government feel that the U.S. military could not cooperate with epidemic prevention and quarantine measures. The situation is very helpless and angry.

The Japan-US Status Agreement is a hindrance

Kyodo News reported that Japanese Foreign Minister Lin Fangzheng had a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Blinken on January 6, expressing the hope that the U.S. would strengthen anti-epidemic measures, including restricting the entry and exit of base personnel, in order to alleviate the anxiety in the area of ​​U.S. military bases in Japan.

According to reports, Blinken immediately conveyed to the U.S. Department of Defense the suggestion that Japan hopes the U.S. to strengthen epidemic prevention measures, emphasizing that the health and safety of local residents in Japan is extremely important to the U.S. and will cooperate with Japan as much as possible. The US military stationed in Japan said in a statement that it is currently formulating stricter epidemic prevention measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic. These measures include requiring US military personnel to wear masks outside the base and carry out stricter testing specifications.

“The U.S. military said it would be consistent with Japan’s measures, but it didn’t actually do that,” said a Japanese foreign ministry official who asked not to be named because of his position.

The key is that the Japan-U.S. Status Agreement frees the U.S. military from abiding by Japan’s norms, said Wenbin Nosato, a professor at Okinawa International University.

“The biggest problem is that Article 3 of the Japan-U.S. Status Agreement gives the U.S. military control over the base,” he said. “Although the agreement does not include an exemption from quarantine, according to the agreement, the U.S. military does not apply to the base. Japan’s domestic law. As a result, the epidemic prevention measures prescribed by the Japanese government are only advocacy for the US military stationed in Japan, and have no coercive force at all. If the US military does not abide by it, Japan has no way to be held accountable.”

In December last year, a group infection occurred at the U.S. Marine Corps Hansen Barracks in Okinawa Prefecture. After the Japanese government asked the U.S. military, they learned that the U.S. military personnel did not carry out PCR screening when they left the United States, and the U.S. military personnel were quarantined just after entering Japan. Free movement within the base. It was later learned that all U.S. military facilities in Japan were exempted from testing when leaving the United States on September 3 last year.

The local government expressed dissatisfaction with the inability to know the actual situation of infection and countermeasures in the base. Okinawa Prefecture Governor Yucheng Danny told the media: “The current situation is to grant privileges, not even information sharing.” Yamaguchi Prefecture Governor Muraoka Tsushima also believes that the US military’s failure to implement testing when leaving the country “caused a decisive and significant impact.”

Opaque information affects trust

No Shimo Wenbin, a professor at Okinawa International University, said that the problem still lies in the Japan-US Status Agreement.

He said: “Because according to Article 9 of the agreement, the U.S. military does not apply the entry-related procedures of Japan’s laws, so the Japanese side can be exempted from quarantine measures. The testing and epidemic prevention measures of U.S. military base personnel must be handed over to the U.S. military, and there is no need to inform Japan of any information. This is undoubtedly a loophole in the case of the spread of the epidemic, because there is absolutely no relevant provisions for public health in the agreement.”

Kyodo News reported on January 5 that a relevant person from the Japanese Ministry of Defense said about the problems caused by the “Japan-US Status Agreement”: “There is no way to be said to be a loophole in the countermeasures at border crossings.”

Former U.S. Marine Corps Pacific base undersecretary for foreign affairs Robert Eldridge believes that the failure to share information will cause serious problems of trust between the two sides, and it will not be able to effectively manage the base.

“There can be no effective relationship without transparency and trust,” he said. “Unfortunately, U.S. military bases in Japan lack both. Bases often do not have a unified policy, and there are equivalent measures between bases and locals. Differences, no transparency and no accountability. In this situation, if the Japanese government does not ask questions, the United States will not provide answers. Even if the Japanese side asks questions, the United States does not often provide clear or complete answers, and sometimes even complete Avoid answering. Also, sometimes the Japanese government doesn’t want to know the answer, so it doesn’t ask questions at all.”

Eldridge pointed out that when the U.S. military bases and Japanese local policies are inconsistent, from the perspective of the U.S. military, the Japanese local government or the central government is often regarded as an enemy, which reduces the sense of trust. He believes that from the perspective of Japan, the issue of opaque information on US military bases will also cause hostility, and the two sides should establish a certain level of information sharing and communication channels to solve the problem.

Information communication and coordination should be strengthened

Okinawa International University professor Wenbin Yeo believes that the United States and Japan should actively start to revise the “Japan-U.S. Status Agreement”, otherwise similar problems will occur in the future.

He said: “The United States and Japan should start to revise the agreement on the definition and response of public health, and think about whether there are other problems that have occurred because of unclear norms, and revise them together to avoid the same situation in the future. “I think it’s important to develop a review mechanism that is acceptable to both sides and to share information, and autonomous groups at many U.S. military bases across Japan are already pushing for a movement to revise the agreement.”

Robert Eldridge, former deputy secretary of state and foreign affairs for the US Marine Corps Pacific Base, said that not only in response to the recent outbreak, but the lack of transparency, accountability, and lack of attention to local communities in the management of US military bases in Japan. The handling of many other problems also exposed vulnerabilities.

He said: “This will only make the mistrust between each other worse. This kind of situation does not happen when I am in charge of the relationship between the US military base and the local community. Therefore, the most important thing is that the two sides continue to The local government takes the initiative to actively coordinate with the policies of the base, the local government, and the central government to find the best solution. Generally speaking, not only for the epidemic, I think it is important to set up liaison officers at the base or local government. For example, Japan Ministry of Defense officials should communicate on a permanent basis in the Office of Government Relations at the U.S. military base headquarters building to build trust and transparency.”

Eldridge pointed out that the best way to manage the base is actually to put the base under the management of the Self-Defense Forces, and the Japanese government can exercise a greater oversight role over the base. He believes that such an approach will promote the alignment of political and administrative goals between the two sides, is economically reasonable, and can improve military interoperability and strengthen common strategic goals.

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