Diplomat gives sparse comment on military buildup

URABAYASHI: Consul General Shinji Urabayashi spoke at the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay luncheon Tuesday Oct. 3. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Japan Consul General Shinji Urabayashi "highly supports" the U.S. military's efforts toward the development of a Marine Corps base on Guam, he said yesterday before the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay.

However, when asked about the recent opposition, including from Gov. Eddie Calvo, on the construction projects related to the military buildup because of a shortage of labor, Urabayashi declined to comment.

"I will defer to (the U.S. military leadership on Guam) for details on the situation with the military projects, and I assure you that my government highly supports these efforts," Urabayashi said.

He also mentioned the United States and Japan's strong ties, especially in light of recent North Korean threats to launch missile strikes. North Korea has also repeatedly threatened Guam with missile launches.

"The enduring Japan-U.S. alliance means not only for Japan's security, but also for stability in the Asia Pacific region - especially during difficult times, like now, during the latest threats from North Korea," Urabayashi said.

Japan hosts one of the largest U.S. military populations within a foreign country, with about 50,000 U.S. military personnel stationed on the Japanese islands, according to Urabayashi.

The buildup is intended to move almost 4,700 Marines and about 1,300 of their dependents from Okinawa to Guam. The relocation is estimated to cost about $8 billion with the Japanese government committing to pay $3 billion, and it has already paid part of that amount.

A major stepping stone for this initiative is the development of the Marine Corps main base in Finegayan, Dededo, and a live-fire training range nearby, on Andersen Air Force Base adjacent to the Ritidian wildlife refuge.

But the military buildup efforts have met resistance from activists who oppose the construction of the training range because of cultural and environmental concerns.

Even Gov. Calvo, formerly a vocal supporter of the buildup, has had a change of heart and last week called for a stop of military construction and a reassessment of the Record of Decision and Programmatic Agreement, which set the guidelines for the military expansion.

The governor's constant frustration has been the nearly 100 percent denial of H-2B visas for skilled foreign construction workers. This has caused the foreign labor pool on Guam to dwindle, and has hampered construction projects.

The consul general also did not entertain questions from the media after his speech at the Rotary. An email from The Guam Daily Post to the consulate office asking about any concerns with potential delays in the buildup yielded no comment.

"We wish to inform you that we are not in a position to make any comments on this matter," the office stated.

North Korean threat affects arrivals

Urabayashi did address other matters, however, such as Guam's tourism relationship with Japan. The consul general acknowledged the dip in Japanese arrivals that has become a challenge for Guam the past few years.

Citing information from the Guam Visitors Bureau, Urabayashi pinned the decline of the Japanese market on rising costs of travel packages to Guam, the weakening of the yen, a decline in airline seat availability and lastly, the recent North Korean missile threats.

"Although we continue to share the information released by Guam Homeland Security and Office of Civil Defense, which reassures tourists and local Japanese residents that Guam remains safe ... we are sad to see that the North Korea issue might have affected Japanese arrivals for August," Urabayashi said.

He added that GVB continues efforts to reassure Japanese tourists that Guam is a safe destination.

"I hope that in the near future, the trend will reverse and many Japanese tourists will be back again on this island. I look forward to providing cooperation on this endeavor," Urabayashi said.

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