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As HNS discussions start, Japan concerned about U.S. demand for payment increase

By Shinichi Akiyama


The Japanese and U.S. governments have started preliminary talks on the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on the host nation support (HNS) provided by Japan for stationing the U.S. forces in Japan. The current agreement is set to expire in March 2021, and the two governments aim to form a new agreement by the end of this year. The SMA is the basis for the Japanese government’s payment of HNS (so-called “sympathy budget”). Full-fledged negotiations will likely take place after the fall because the U.S. is still negotiating an HNS agreement with South Korea and COIVID-19 makes it difficult for the nations’ representatives to travel.


According to USFJ Commander Lt. Gen. Kevin B. Schneider, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun came to Japan on July 9 and held preliminary talks with his counterparts, but they did not discuss an HNS figure.


The SMA serves as the basis for Japan’s HNS, including the salaries of base workers and utilities, and it is revised every five years. The new agreement is expected to cover fiscal years 2021 through 2025. The Japanese government intends to finalize the overall framework of the SMA by the end of this year. Japan will be compiling its fiscal 2021 draft budget at around that time. Because U.S. officials are engaged in negotiations with South Korea and COVID-19 makes it difficult for Japanese and U.S. officials to travel between the two countries, “full-fledged negotiations are expected to take place in the fall or winter,” the USFJ commander said.


The November U.S. presidential election, in which President Donald Trump is up for re-election, will apparently affect the negotiations. President Trump has consistently sought to increase Japan’s HNS. When former National Security Advisor John Bolton came to Japan in July 2019, he asked the Japanese government to bear about $8 billion a year (about 840 billion yen), which is about four times the current amount, including expenses that had previously been outside the scope of the talks.


Since the Japanese government considers Mr. Bolton’s request “not a formal proposal” (according to a source connected with the government), it will proceed with the negotiations based on the current HNS amount (about 946.5 billion yen for five years [estimated at at the time of the last agreement]). “If we hold negotiations before the presidential election, the U.S. will make excessive demands,” anticipates a senior Foreign Ministry official.

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