Okinawa police stated on Monday that a US Marine was suspected of the rape of a 14-year-old Japanese girl on the southern island of Okinawa, and was arrested. The news triggered anger from an area where US military presence is widely resented, and also brought flashbacks of a rape case in 1995. The episode has sparked calls for psychological counseling in the US military in Japan; and changes to the agreement governing the status of US military personnel in Japan, including the handling of criminal cases.
Japan's Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, on Tuesday denounced the suspected rape case. "It is unforgivable," he told a parliamentary panel in his first public comments on the latest incident. "It has happened over and over again in the past and I consider it a grave situation."
The arrested marine, 38-year-old Tyrone Hadnott, based at Camp Courtney on Okinawa, was charged with raping the schoolgirl when the two were in a car on Sunday.
He denies raping the girl, but admits to forcing her to kiss him, said an Okinawa police spokesman.
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Japan had summoned the US charge d'affair in Tokyo on Tuesday. Earlier, he said, mid-level officials from the US embassy had also gone to Japanese officials to express regret.
Many believe that the incident, as well as its echoes of the 1995 case, would jolt the US-Japan alliance.
Japan's Defense Minister, Shigeru Ishiba, expressed anger over the repeated incidents despite frequent promises by US officials to prevent them. "This will have a big impact on future US-Japan relations," he told a news conference.
US military bases in Japan have long roused complaints from local residents about crime, noise and accidents. In 1995, the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl by three US servicemen sparked huge protests against US military presence on Okinawa.
"This kind of crime cannot be forgiven, especially when you remember that the victim is a middle school student," Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima said in a statement.
But diplomatic experts said such political fallout could be limited this time if the two governments are careful.
Both Tokyo and Washington, the experts said, are keen to keep the incident from affecting security ties.
Authorities from the both sides want to prevent a rerun of 1995, but analysts said much depends on the reaction in Okinawa.
Okinawa officials have expressed outrage; and on Tuesday they lodged formal protests against the US Marines; while the central government decided to send a senior diplomat to the island.
Japan's main opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa was quoted as saying, "US-Japan relations are not just a matter of bases: incidents concerning military bases are likely to have a big emotional impact on the people."
The incident coincided with the Futenma move under discussion between Tokyo and Washington, in which Okinawa residents have accepted a plan to relocate the Marine's Futenma Air Station from the densely populated central Okinawa to the coastal city of Nago.
US officials have spared no effort to conclude the deal; and this time, they responded promptly to mitigate fallout from the case.
"It is our job to do everything we can to restore the confidence of the Japanese people in the US forces stationed here in Japan," Lieutenant-General Bruce Wright said. He added, however, that the case has nothing to do with SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement), a treaty signed between the US and Japan in January 1960.
Japan is home to some 50,000 US troops, with Okinawa hosting a huge military presence, under a security alliance that is a pillar of Japan's postwar diplomacy.
Although many critics in Okinawa resent the bases; others welcome the boost in the local economy.
By People's Daily Online