BY JESSE JOHNSON
U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that Japan pay $8 billion per year for costs associated with hosting American troops — or risk their withdrawal — former national security adviser John Bolton has alleged in his new memoir.
In the controversial book “The Room Where It Happened,” obtained by The Japan Times before its scheduled release on Tuesday, Bolton said that he met with his Japanese counterpart at the time, Shotaro Yachi, in July last year to explain “why Trump wanted $8 billion annually,” starting from next year, “compared to the roughly $2.5 billion Japan now paid.”
The demand, the hawkish former top security official wrote, was part of a negotiating strategy he said Trump had termed “cost plus 50 percent” — the amount that the U.S. would seek from allies where it had troops stationed.
Trump, Bolton wrote, said the best way to get allies like Japan and South Korea to pay the substantial increases, “was to threaten to withdraw all U.S. forces.”
“That puts you in a very strong bargaining position,” he quoted Trump as saying.
Asked about Bolton’s claims at a news conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment but denied that the U.S. had demanded Japan shoulder more of the cost-sharing burden, saying talks had yet to begin.
The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Trump has labeled Bolton’s book “a compilation of lies.”
The U.S. and Japan are due to begin talks on a new bilateral Special Measures Agreement for hosting American troops soon, with the current five-year deal due to expire next year.
It was not immediately clear what the $2.5 billion figure Bolton noted represented. In fiscal 2019, Japan allocated ¥197.4 billion (about $1.8 billion) to host the troops.
Bolton said that one positive outcome of having to broach the news to the Japanese side was that “they could prepare themselves,” which he said “was more advance notice than South Korea received.”
South Korean and the U.S. are currently engaged in protracted cost-sharing negotiations, with Washington reportedly seeking up to $5 billion a year to support the troop presence there, up from $870 million under last year’s agreement.
Bolton wrote that despite the president’s hardline negotiating tactics, “ultimately, only Trump knew what payment would satisfy him, so there was no point now trying to guess what the ‘real’ number was.”
“But at least by alerting Japan and South Korea that they had a real issue, I gave them a chance to figure out a response,” he added.
In November, media reports citing unidentified Japanese and U.S. officials said the Trump administration was seeking that Japan cover four to five times as much per year in cost-sharing. Suga also denied those reports. But a Defense Ministry source said that Trump probably “wanted to see Japan’s reaction,” Kyodo News reported at the time.
Trump, who fancies himself a dealmaker, has long looked upon the U.S. alliance system with disdain, repeatedly calling for allies around the world to shoulder more of the costs of their partnerships with the United States.
Japan — despite Trump’s golf-buddy relationship with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — has been no exception to this rule.
As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump made a string of complaints saying that Japan did not pay enough for hosting U.S. bases. And last June, at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, he renewed calls to alter the decades-old security treaty, which he described as “unfair.”
Under the bilateral security treaty, some 50,000 U.S. troops are based in the country, which is also home to the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet. The U.S. presence has grown increasingly important to Washington and Tokyo, analysts say, amid Chinese maritime assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling.
Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at International Christian University in Tokyo, called the revelations of Trump’s negotiating pattern “predictable,” saying that the U.S. leader’s “standard operating procedure” is to begin with exorbitant demands that are then scaled back “to deals that are by most assessments modest in change.”
Nagy said that while Trump’s “maximalist demands play well to his base,” they are “fundamentally incoherent” when taking into account Japan’s contributions to date, including its increased burden-sharing in the relationship, and its key role supporting the U.S. military’s forward deployment in the region.
Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.