By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Even though most economically and militarily powerful nations trample on weaker countries, Japan, until now has stood tall, following a different path. Despite the fact it had become an economic powerhouse by the late 1960s, Japan never resorted to bullying tactics and managed its relations with less powerful countries based on mutual respect. It has also been generous in providing aid to third world nations with few if any strings attached.
Japanese NHK TV covering Minister Itsunori Onodera’s visit to Sri Lanka, the first by a Japanese Defense Minister has stated: “Top defense officials of Japan and Sri Lanka have confirmed that a Sri Lankan port leased to China should be open to all countries to ensure freedom of navigation.” It further stated, “Minister Onodera said the Hambantota port in southern Sri Lanka is located on a crucial shipping route. State Minister for Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said his country will not permit China to use the port for military purposes.”
Some of the local media too carried news items titled “Japan wants H’tota to be free of military activities” and have reported concerns expressed by Onodera on behalf of the Japanese government over the leasing of the Hambantota Port to a state-owned Chinese company on a 99-year lease. It is understood President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have both assured Minister Onodera, “Despite the lease, there was an agreement that the port remains free of military activities.”
The lease agreement with China Merchant Port Holdings became operative on December 2017. The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer Akebono visited the port in April 2018. As Onedera would have observed during his visit to the port, elements of the Sri Lanka Navy are responsible for port security.
It need be pointed out to Japan and all others, GoSL first agreed to sell 70% of the port and subsequently changed it to a 99-year lease due to local objections not for any love for China but due to its inability to repay the loans obtained to develop the port. The current government had little choice, especially as nations who now complain stood by silently.
Japan, together with USA, India and several other nations are currently distressed over the lease agreement, their concerns being, the port could be used for military activities, and further, a Chinese military presence (if it comes to that) would create instability in the region.
Japan’s concerns for regional security need be evaluated against its own practices since its defeat in WWII. Economically and militarily decimated, it rose to the ranking of world’s second-largest economy by 1970, a position it had to relinquish to China in 2010.
United States Forces Japan (USFJ) command consist of 15 Army, 31 Navy, 20 Air Force and 17 Marine Corps bases, camps, installations, depots and training facilities. It is headquartered at the Yokota Air Base about 30 km from Tokyo. Around 54,000 US servicemen besides thousands of support staff and family members are currently in Japan. A full list of US military facilities can be accessed through https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Forces_Japan . Details of key installations can be accessed through https://militarybases.com/overseas/japan/ USFJ told The Japan Times that the approximate cost of the U.S. presence in Japan is USD 5.5 billion, based on the 2017 Operation and Maintenance Overview by the Office of the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense. It said Japan will pay Japanese ¥192 billion (approx. USD 1.76 billion) in the current fiscal year in direct support of USFJ.
Given below are a list of key US naval bases in Japan
|Location||Installation Type||Established In||Remarks|
|Okinawa||Fleet Activities Okinawa||1950||HDQ to US 7th Fleet, 76th Task Force|
|Sasebo||Fleet Activities Sasebo||1946||home of COMPHIBRON 11, COMCRON 7|
|Yokosuka||Fleet Activities Yokosuka||1945||home of nuclear aircraft carrier USS George Washington and 13 other USN vessels|
|Kanagawa||Naval Air Facility Atsugi Naval Base||1945||largest USN air base in Pacific, home of Carrier Wing Five incl. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Regan|
|Misawa||Naval Air Facility Misawa||1972||home to USAF 35th Fighter Wing|
Since the end of WWII, the presence of US armed forces, installations and its massive arsenal of sophisticated craft and weapons on Japanese soil (and South Korean) have led to the destabilization of the entire Far East region. Both China and North Korea have been compelled to live with this formidable arsenal in its backyard. It propelled North Korea to commence developing its own ballistic missile program in 1976 which culminated in the successful launch of an ICBM with a potential range of 13,000 km, capable of reaching parts of USA. Meanwhile, China has enhanced its defense capabilities as befitting its rank among global powers. To its credit, it has gone to war only twice since its inception in 1950, i.e., in Korea in 1950 to thwart US aggression and against Vietnam in 1979 due to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia. On the other hand, the US has gone to war 13 times spending USD 14.3 trillion without having to face the threat of invasion since Pearl Harbor.
US facilities in Japan are not meant only for defense purposes. Many operations have been conducted by Japan-based US armed forces in Korea in the 1950s, during the Vietnam war and more recently in carrying out support missions in Middle East operations. Japan has to date, failed to demand, facilities on its land meant for its defense not to be used by the US for military operations elsewhere.
China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea is only to be expected due to the five US naval bases and 77 other installations hosted by Japan on its soil beside others in South Korea and other Far Eastern countries.
In 2008, US replaced its aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington. The then Japanese government spokesperson Hiroyuki Hosoda, said, “We believe that the change (of the carriers) will lead to maintaining the solid presence of the U.S. Navy and contribute to keeping Japan’s security and international peace into the future.”
Not to be forgotten, the Chinese powerhouse is the making of countries such as USA, Japan, and EU member states among others. Since the visit to China by US President Richard Nixon in 1972, these countries outsourced hundreds of thousands of their manufacturing jobs for its companies to benefit from low labor costs, lack of industrial unrest and other incentives offered by China. The Chinese used these opportunities wisely to attain its current global standing both economically and militarily. It also managed to bring 700 million of its population out of poverty within 30 years, a hitherto unmatched achievement.
Despite Japan’s fears of Chinese expansionism, its bilateral trade with China in 2017 amounted to USD 33.2 billion with a USD 3.5 billion favorable balance to China.
Sri Lanka leased its port in Hambantota for lack of any other choice. The proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 12,500 acres in Hambantota is to be developed with a Chinese company to make the port a viable entity. It is scheduled to have other investors besides China.
Japan should worry less about the Chinese imprint in Hambantota and pay more attention to Chinese and North Korean concerns about the presence of US military facilities on its soil. The way Japan can contribute to regional security is to take its rightful place in the world order and assume responsibility for its own defense requirements.