Guam Business Leaders: Most Of Community Support Military Buildup

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Silent majority encouraged to speak up to drown out vocal minority opposed

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, June 10, 2014) – The military buildup's $8.6 billion price tag will significantly boost Guam's small economy, and Guamanians who support it should speak up before the window to do so closes, a leader in the business community said yesterday.

Construction activities related to the relocation of thousands of Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam could be compared to the impact of building 50 to 90 hotels in Tumon, said Joe Arnett, with the Guam Chamber of Commerce's Armed Services Committee. He's also a tax partner at Deloitte & Touche.

"I think the impact would be huge," said Arnett, who was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay meeting at the Pacific Star Resort & Spa yesterday.

From a pure economic standpoint, the buildup, even if it's half of the current price tag, will still have a "dramatic impact" on the local economy, Arnett said.

But while the buildup is perceived as beneficial to the majority of the population -- about four out of every five residents support it -- Rotarian and University of Guam professor Ron McNinch questioned at the meeting why some of the island's local officials listen primarily to the vocal minority who oppose it.

Gov. Eddie Calvo has voiced support for the buildup, but some in the Democratic legislative leadership have questioned whether the buildup's benefits outweigh social and other adverse impacts to the community.

Arnett said the majority of island residents have remained silent, or haven't spoken enough, to send a message to decision-makers in Washington, D.C., that Guam supports the buildup.

Arnett and other members of the Chamber's Armed Services Committee have spent more than a decade knocking on doors in Washington trying to say that Guam wants additional defense personnel and facilities.

Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo has said Hawaii wants to host the Marines if Guam doesn't welcome them.

View on China

The nation's defense, in light of potential sources of conflicts in Asia, should be the main reason to support the military buildup, and the economic boost to the island is an additional benefit, Arnett said.

A recently released Congressional Research Service report states China is a key factor in the increased presence of military personnel and facilities on Guam.

And while the Obama administration publicly characterizes China as a peaceful power, some of China's civilian and military commentators "have suspected the defense buildup on Guam as aimed at China," the report states. Titled "Guam: U.S. Defense Deployments," the report was released on April 29 and written by Shirley A. Kan, a specialist in Asian Security Affairs.

China's People's Liberation Army "has raised attention to Guam and has been building up its submarine force, both nuclear-powered and diesel-electric," the report states.

In 2012, China's Navy started to conduct military activities, "perhaps including surveillance, in the Exclusive Economic Zone around Guam," the report states.

Arnett agrees that building up U.S. military capabilities on Guam is key to getting ready for potential conflicts in Asia.

Last year, North Korea also made threats to launch missiles toward Guam, which prompted the Pentagon to send a missile defense system to the island.

"I still think defense is the main issue; if you don't believe that the threat is real, you're not paying attention," Arnett said.

But while the process of receiving Guam's public input for the military buildup remains open through July 2, questions were asked at the meeting yesterday whether the Marine-related buildup would happen at all on Guam.

Some of the Rotarians also said increased U.S. troop presence in the Philippines might reduce the planned buildup on Guam.

Bill Shippey, president of a safety compliance company who also has taught at the Philippine Military Academy, said dormitories are being built at Clark Freeport Zone. Clark is a former U.S. Air Force Base in the Philippines, which has retained a vast aviation complex.

Businessman Ted Neri also spoke at the question-and-answer portion of yesterday's Rotary meeting. He is among those who doubt the Marine relocation to Guam will happen, at least not at the scale being discussed now.

"I don't think it's gonna happen," Neri said. "They're building facilities in the Philippines now."

President Obama visited the Philippines in April as part of a new agreement that would allow U.S. troops to share temporary facilities at Philippine bases. The agreement specifically states the U.S. cannot build permanent bases in the Philippines.

The Philippine government has softened its stance against hosting U.S. military personnel, as the Philippines and China continue their territorial dispute.

In mid-May, the Philippine government protested that China was doing extensive reclamation work at Mabini Reef, which is part of Philippine territory, the office of President Benigno Aquino III stated recently.

The Philippines filed a case before the International Tribunal of the Laws of the Sea, and the tribunal gave China until Dec. 15 to comment, the Philippine presidential office stated.

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