TOKYO, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said Wednesday that plan to transfer troops from Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam are progressing well, according to local media accounts.
The new commander, who assumed his post in July, told a media event in Tokyo that while the transfer plan is "progressing very well," the transfer of Marines and the contentious relocation of the U.S. Futenma air base within Okinawa are "different but related issues."
The Japanese government has previously inferred that the relocation of the base, which has drawn staunch opposition from the Okinawa prefectural government as well as local citizens who wish to see the base relocated outside the island or Japan altogether, and the transfer of the troops to Guam, may be inextricably linked.
The underlying supposition by the government here, while not being confirmed or denied by Berger on Wednesday, is that the U.S. troops won't be moved from Okinawa until the controversial U.S. base is relocated from Ginowan to a pristine coastal region in Nago also in Okinawa.
While saying that there are "too many variables" to "tell the exact timeline," Berger didn't refute reports that the transfer of Marines, based on an accord inked between both countries in 2006, may begin in Oct. 2024, however.
The U.S. Marine head also highlighted the importance of Japan and South Korea improving ties and cooperation. Bilateral relations between both countries have sunk to their lowest level in recent years as a wartime labor row has spilled over into a tit-for-tat trade dispute.
Under the current plan to shift U.S. troops out of Okinawa and relocate them to Guam and possibly Hawaii, 9,000 of the 19,000 Marines stationed in Okinawa will be realigned.
Land reclamation work for the replacement facility in Nago has been pushed ahead by the central government despite heavy resistance from the Okinawa government, with central and local governments being involved in a number of lawsuits and counter suits over the matter.
Residents of Okinawa have long urged the central government to ease their U.S. base hosting burdens.
The tiny subtropical island hosts the majority of U.S. troops based in Japan yet accounts for just a fraction of Japan's total land mass.
Okinawans have had to deal with numerous instances of serious U.S. base personnel-linked crimes including murder and rape, as well as a steady flow of U.S military mishaps and accidents, such as those involving military aircraft.