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83% of Japan's governors say Japan-US forces pact needs reviewing: Mainichi poll

In this February 2020 file photo, U.S. Marines hold small arms live ammunition training at the Hijudai training area in Oita Prefecture. (Mainichi/Tomohiro Tsujimoto)

Thirty-nine of Japan's 47 governors told a recent Mainichi Shimbun survey that the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), set to outline the legal standing of the U.S. military in Japan, as well as the management and operation of U.S. bases on Japanese soil, needs to be reviewed 60 years after it came into effect.

June 23 marks the 60th anniversary of the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the SOFA, which is based on the bilateral treaty, taking effect, and the Mainichi asked the governors of Japan's 47 prefectures their opinions on the issue ahead of the anniversary. The results showed that many heads of local governments have doubts about the 1960 agreement that has allowed privilege upon Japan-based U.S. military members, such as Japanese laws not applying to their activities.

All of the 47 governors replied to the Mainichi survey, and none of them said there was "no need to review the SOFA." Eight didn't give a specific answer to the question whether the agreement should be re-evaluated, with one saying that "The issues regarding diplomacy and security are the national government's exclusive jurisdiction," while another commented, "The central government should take responsibility in responding to the matter."

When asked to pick reasons from the eight items suggested in the poll, the largest number, or 25, of the 39 governors who said the SOFA needs to be reviewed chose, "I want Japanese laws to be applied to the U.S. military in Japan."

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu stated, "The SOFA is close to an extraterritorial right and is unequal. To prevent crimes and accidents by U.S. military personnel that repeatedly occur, fundamental revisions are necessary." Iwate Gov. Tasso Takuya pointed out, "Japan doesn't have authority over U.S. military movements and training, and this is extremely problematic in terms of local autonomy and the safety of local residents."

Twenty-one governors selected, "This is an issue for Japan as a whole not just of municipalities where U.S. bases are located," while 17 governors chose, "Local residents have been voicing concerns over U.S. bases and U.S. military training."

Shimane Gov. Tatsuya Maruyama mentioned about continuous noise pollution in his prefecture caused by low-altitude flight training of aircraft believed to belong to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in the neighboring prefecture of Yamaguchi and said, "We demand improvements in that regard by re-examining the agreement."

Thirteen governors picked, "The burden on Okinawa Prefecture, where U.S. military facilities are concentrated, needs to be reduced." Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura who selected this reason stated, "We should work on reducing the burden on Okinawa and have everyone share the load across Japan. If requested by the national government, Osaka Prefecture will respond to the matter while discussing with municipal governments." No governor picked, "I am doubtful about the (Japan-U.S.) security alliance."

Under the 28-article agreement, when a U.S. military-related suspect in a criminal case is under the custody of the United States, the suspect in principle will not be handed over to Japan until they are indicted. Furthermore, Japanese laws do not apply to U.S. military personnel when they are on duty. These have been pointed out as problematic, but the SOFA has never been reviewed.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki responded to the poll, saying, "I would like people to see the SOFA as an issue directly affecting them and also as a matter of democracy, and share the understanding that it's an issue that should be resolved by the people of Japan as a whole."

(Japanese original by Shinji Kurokawa and Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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