SUB: Japan & US – Renewed Bilateral Security Commitment Could Trigger Domestic Unrest and Sustain Tensions with Beijing

Key Takeaways 

The agreement to extend the bilateral cost-sharing arrangement on US forces stationed in Japan has raised concerns over potential anti-US protests and unrest in Okinawa, given the significant opposition to US military presence among the local population.

Most notably, the US military's apparent disregard of the Covid-19 restrictions and perceived disruptive training activities will sustain the risk of small-scale demonstrations against US bases and their private sector partners.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's reluctance to address the growing discontent amongst Okinawa's residents underlines his government's continued commitment to forming stronger ties with Washington. The cost-sharing deal extension also falls largely in line with new US President Joe
Biden's foreign policy strategy of strengthening regional alliances to counter China's rise.

As Tokyo and Washington continue to forge closer security cooperation with allies and partners in the region, tensions with China is set to rise further. Chinese-linked cyber threat actors could intensify their sabotage or intelligence-gathering hacking activities against Japan and its allies, as well as
companies with close ties with what Beijing regards as 'hostile' governments.

Background and Context 

On 17 February, Tokyo and Washington have agreed to extend their current cost-sharing arrangement for hosting American troops in Japan in the 2021 fiscal year, starting in April. Under this agreement, the Japanese government will pay approximately USD 1.90 billion towards the costs of stationing an estimated 55,000 US military personnel in the country. This host nation support is expected to help pay for things such as utilities,
labour and training expenses.

The US has maintained a military presence in Japan ever since the end of World War II, with the two countries signing the first defensive hosting treaty, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), in 1960. Under this treaty, Washington is permitted to base warships, fighter jets and tens of thousands of troops in and around Japan. This pact forms the bedrock of Washington's military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and has positioned Japan firmly under the protection of the US "nuclear umbrella". While the long-established alliance provides robust security guarantee for the post-war pacificist Japan, US military presence has also been a source of significant controversy and unrest.

Host nation support extension will likely fuel anti-US grievance in Okinawa 

While the US military operates bases across Japan, most of its assets are located in Okinawa Prefecture. Since the prefecture's incorporation into Japan in 1972, tensions between local communities and US military personnel have remained high due to violent crimes, noise and pollution linked to US military establishments in the prefecture. Criticism of US troops' behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled further grievance among the islanders and local authorities. Reports of US soldiers celebrating holidays, such as the American Independence Day, in spite of the prefecture's growing number of infections, prompted Okinawan Governor Denny Tamaki to say that "trust in the [Japan-US] security alliance is on the brink of collapse". More recently, Okinawans have blamed the US military's poor handling of the pandemic as a driving factor behind the resurgence of Covid-19 cases and the reinstatement of state of emergency measures in the prefecture between 19 January and 7 February. As a result, the renewed cost-sharing agreement is likely to be another flashpoint for potential protests and unrest against US military in Okinawa...

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