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Perry, in Japan, Speaks of Both Cooperation and Costs : Asia: Defense secretary tries to calm restiveness over U.S. troop presence. But, he says, 'freedom is never free.'

November 01, 1995|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — Defense Secretary William J. Perry pledged today that the United States will work to reduce the "intrusiveness" of its military bases on Japan's southern island of Okinawa but bluntly warned that the U.S.-Japan alliance is not without cost.

Seeking to calm a nationwide uproar sparked by the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl, allegedly by three U.S. servicemen, Perry told a news conference that on behalf of the entire U.S. military, he wishes to express "deep sorrow" for the victim and "anger" at the perpetrators.

In morning meetings with Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Defense Agency Director Gen. Seishiro Eto, Perry reached agreement on establishment of a "special action committee" to explore and implement ways to scale back the activities of U.S. bases on Okinawa. But the two sides agreed that total U.S. troop strength in Japan will remain at 47,000, Perry said.

At his news conference, Perry offered a vigorous defense of the continuing importance of the U.S.-Japan security relationship in the post-Cold War era.

During times of peace, Perry said, it is easy to focus on the inconveniences caused by the bases. But if U.S. armed forces here ever must be used in combat, he told his mostly Japanese audience, "I will be very glad, and you will be very glad, that they are based where they are."

"They are located here because this is where they have to be to provide the security umbrella for the Asia-Pacific region," Perry said. "Freedom is never free. Security is never guaranteed. You have to work for it."

The two sides also reached agreement on the broad outlines of a joint statement reaffirming the U.S.-Japan security alliance to be adopted by President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama at a Nov. 20 Tokyo summit, Perry said.

In the statement, the two nations will declare that "our security relationship is absolutely essential to the security and stability of the region," Perry said. The United States will reaffirm its guarantee of Japan's security, and Japan will reaffirm its commitment to support America's forward presence in Asia, he said.

While the total number of U.S. troops in Japan will not be cut, it might be possible to move some of the 26,000 troops on Okinawa to other bases in Japan, Perry said.

Many Okinawans have long considered it unfair that they are forced to give up 20% of their main island to play host to 75% of the U.S. military facilities in Japan, despite their having less than 1% of Japan's land. Partly because Okinawans have historically been treated as second-class citizens by many Japanese, resentment over the base arrangements has often been targeted against Tokyo as much as against Washington.

"People say that the Japan-U.S. security arrangement is important, but no one offers to accept its burdens," Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota complained Monday to a visiting delegation of politicians from Japan's ruling coalition. "If it is so important, why doesn't the whole nation shoulder the burdens?"

While the rape incident triggered the recent round of anti-base protests, what really forced Tokyo and Washington to take Okinawans' protests seriously was that Ota refused to use his legal power to force anti-base landowners to renew leases on parcels used for U.S. military facilities.

Ota's anti-base stance has reflected strong feelings on Okinawa that have deep historical roots.

An independent kingdom until the 19th Century, Okinawa was the scene of the bloodiest battle of World War II. More than 230,000 people, including about 14,000 Americans and 120,000 civilians, or one-third of Okinawa's population at the time, died in that brutal 83-day struggle. Anti-war sentiment has been strong on the island since.

While Ota reiterated Monday that he will not sign the leases, Okinawa Vice Gov. Masanori Yoshimoto issued a pointed reminder that Murayama also has the power to take this unpopular step.

A Japanese government plan for consolidation of U.S. bases on Okinawa, like Perry's three-day mission to Japan, appears aimed in part at easing Ota's and other Okinawans' objections if Murayama uses his legal authority to force renewal of the leases.

The plan calls for faster implementation of measures already agreed to between Tokyo and Washington for consolidation of some bases and return of some base land to civilian use, according to Japanese media reports. It also urges the two countries to reach agreement on scaling down other facilities.

Perry stressed that the two sides have made major progress since 1991 on 23 proposals to reduce the impact of U.S. bases on Okinawan life, including trimming the size of some bases and new ways of conducting exercises.

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