Thursday, November 4, 2010

Open for business

Peace Partners
I have long said that the solution to Futenma is two words:
The Philippines.

Actually, two locations are whispered in Washington: Subic Bay, The Philippines and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

The effort to relocate the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to somewhere on Okinawa is sliding into 15 years.  Most of the delay has been under a LDP-led government. The DPJ came to power in 2009 hoping to end the stalemate by moving the base off the island. American patience soon wore thin, especially as the time drew closer to deploy the accident-prone Osprey to Futenma.

Futenma, smack in the middle of a city, is an accident waiting to happen. With the Ospreys, it is an accident pretty near guaranteed. It is a mystery to me as why common sense does not take over from so-called force structure and contingency planning. Does the Marine Corps want a disaster to happen?

Anyway, what both the LDP and the DPJ have in common is their understanding that moving Futenma within Okinawa is not politically viable. The DPJ was inadvertently more honest in suggesting that the Marines simply leave. For both the LDP and now the DPJ, the strategy is to delay until the U.S. realized on its own that it had to reduce its presence in the prefecture.

And Japan's political leaders must have thought that they were winning this war of wills, when the U.S. announced its plan to move many of the Marines on Okinawa to Guam. But as USG analysts have pointed out, Guam does not have the infrastructure to support such a massive population increase. Or as the U.S. Congress' only Soka Gakkai member, Hank Johnson (D-GA) worried, Guam might "tip over and capsize" due to overpopulation.

Hatoyama's questioning of the Futenma relocation agreement finally impressed upon American policymakers, long enamored (blinded by love) with the seemingly pro-defense LDP, that the current situation was untenable. Forcing the Japanese to build another base on Okinawa had political consequences not just for the Japanese, but the U.S. as well. Thus, quietly, both Japan and the U.S. have looked for other locations in the Asia-Pacific to host U.S. military facilities.

It appears that Vietnam has been Japan's favorite. This summer Japan participated for the first time in the U.S. Navy's Pacific Partnership --the annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian assistance and disaster relief endeavors, aimed at strengthening regional partnerships in Southeast Asia--by sending a medical ship to Vietnam. Over the weekend, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan signed with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung a Strategic Partnership between Japan and Viet Nam for Peace and Prosperity in Asia to develop rare earth elements, build nuclear power plants, and improve Viet Nam's infrastructure.

Viet Nam's Cam Ranh Bay is strategically located near key shipping lanes in the South China Sea and is close to the potentially oil-rich Spratlys and Paracel islands. The Spratlys are claimed by Vietnam, China, Malaysia, the Philipines, Brunei and Taiwan. The Paracels are claimed by Vietnam and China.

This weekend the Vietnamese Prime Minister announced that his country was willing to service foreign navies at Cam Ranh Bay. The Russians would furbish part of the naval facility and open it for business.

Now, let's see how The Philippines reacts.

But enough from me, let the news speak for itself:

Vietnam to reopen Cam Ranh Bay to foreign fleets: PM
AFP 10/31/10

Vietnam plans to reopen to foreign navies the Cam Ranh Bay port facility formerly used by both the US and Russia, the prime minister said Saturday after a summit dominated by China's territorial disputes.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung addresses the closing ceremony of the 17th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi. Vietnam plans to reopen to foreign navies the Cam Ranh Bay port facility formerly used by both the US and Russia, the prime minister said Saturday after a summit dominated by China's territorial disputes.

"In the centre of the Cam Ranh port complex Vietnam will stand ready to provide services to the naval ships from all countries including submarines when they need our services," Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said in response to a reporter's question, at the close of the East Asia Summit.

Countries will pay for services at the facility which will be developed with Russian assistance, Dung said.

The base in southern Vietnam was used by the United States navy during the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. The Soviet Union and then Russia later used the facility, until Russia withdrew several years ago.

Vietnam and the US, which restored diplomatic ties 15 years ago, are both concerned about China's growing military might and assertiveness in the South China Sea.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Vietnam Saturday that Hanoi and Washington are "broadening our security exchanges".

On Saturday the US and Russia were formally invited as members of the East Asia Summit in what analysts say is a blow to Chinese attempts to diminish US influence in the region.

With its core the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), EAS also includes Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

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