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Mayor Dela Cruz ‘delighted’
SAIPAN – A fact-finding mission yesterday by officials of Japan’s Defense Ministry has led to optimism in what was once the world’s largest operational airbase – Tinian.
“It is something positive. The local business community is excited,” Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz said when asked by Variety yesterday about the visit’s impact on the community.
Led by Japan’s Ministry of Defense Counselor Morio Ito, the delegation consisted of nine civilian and Self Defense Force officials.
The mayor stated, “We had a very low-key, cordial meeting with the Japanese delegation and with Marine Forces Pacific (FWD) Officer Col. Robert Loynd.” However, there was no discussion of any concrete plans for the proposed training sites or about the Marines’ relocation out of Okinawa.
This week, the Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s most widely circulated newspapers, reported that the Japanese government and Washington have agreed that Japan will foot the bill in the construction of training sites on Tinian and Pagan where the Japanese and U.S. governments are said to be planning joint military exercises.
The Japanese newspaper also revealed that the total relocation cost has been reduced from $10.27 billion to $8.7 billion, with Japan coughing up about $3.12 billion in financial assistance.
This figure is $300 million more than the $2.8 million agreed upon by both parties in 2009, having been adjusted to factor in the yen’s appreciation since that time.
According to Mayor Dela Cruz, the visit was a fact-finding mission.
He told Variety that the Japanese officials’ decision on the plan might be forthcoming. “Hopefully, very soon,” he said.
He said the group visited the proposed sites where the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force personnel and their American military counterparts will be holding joint military exercises.
“No concrete plan yet. Mr. Ito stated there is no existing plan for activities on Tinian,” he said.
Col. Loynd for his part told the guests that the Marine Corps is working diligently on creating a new plan for Tinian in accordance with the demands from Washington D.C.
Although the Japanese officials did not convey or hint at a forthcoming decision, Dela Cruz remains hopeful it would be favorable to Tinian.
Dela Cruz said he told the visiting Japanese delegation that among the advantages for choosing Tinian is that two-thirds of the island is already leased by the military.
He also assured them that proximity of the training site to the residential area isn’t a concern, because North Field is far from where majority of the Tinian population resides.
As Tinian waits for the Japanese government’s decision, Dela Cruz said he only hopes it favors Tinian.
Beyond the economic benefits for the island, he sees this as an historic occasion for both governments.
“If the Japanese Self-Defense Force and the Americans train together as allies, this will be history in the making. They were once bitter enemies during the war and now they are coming back as allies to preserve security in the region,” the mayor said.
He also said, “Now we are the strongest of allies. It would be historic and heartwarming to see American Marines and Japanese soldiers training side-by-side on Tinian today.”
He also shared with Variety that when the delegation asked him if the Municipality of Tinian has any objection to the proposed construction of training sites, he told them, “No.”
Dela Cruz said members of his staff accompanied the guests to North Field, the atomic bomb pits, the Atomic Bomb Assembly Building area, the invasion beaches Unai Chulu and Unai Babui, and Mt. Laso.
About 200 Marines based in Iwakuni, Japan are scheduled to begin a month-long training exercise on Tinian next month – the first there in more than a decade – but no plans for building a permanent base have yet been disclosed.
Yesterday, the Yomiuri Shimbun also reported that based on an outlined U.S.-Japan agreement, the U.S. will be returning five bases and facilities in three stages.
That same outline, the paper said, also reveals that the Americans and Japanese are working further on plans to improve U.S. military facilities on Tinian and Pagan where future joint Japanese-American military exercises are to be held.
The outline agreement stated the Japanese will provide financial assistance to defray the costs of constructing these military training sites.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The outline also stated Japan and the United States will cooperate in building training sites in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, which means Japan has agreed to contribute toward construction costs for training sites in Guam.”
In pitching the proposal to the U.S. government, the Japanese government believes the Ground Self-Defense Force will be able to conduct amphibious exercises with U.S. Marines more often and improve on capabilities if the exercises can be held on Tinian, where 70 percent of the island is leased by the U.S. military, according to an earlier Yomiuri Shimbun report.
Even Washington D.C. was receptive to the proposal to have the exercises on Tinian on account of the difficulty the Marines experience on Guam in conducting large-scale exercises because of the training facilities’ proximity to civilian residential areas.
The U.S. Department of Defense currently leases 15,353 acres on Tinian: the Exclusive Military Use Area with 7,574 acres, and the Leaseback Area covering 7,779 acres.
It was also reported in the Japanese press, and confirmed by Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, that the text of the U.S.-Japan agreement will be released in Washington today.