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Japan offers close to $2bn annually to cover U.S. troop presence

  • December 8, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 4:08 a.m.
  • English Press

JUNNOSUKE KOBARA, Nikkei security affairs editor


TOKYO — Japan has proposed boosting host-nation support for American troops in the country to close to $2 billion a year, from the current $1.78 billion, by allocating new funds for joint exercises and other efforts that would directly strengthen their alliance.


Tokyo informed Washington during working-level negotiations that began in late November that it is ready to shoulder around 210 billion yen to 220 billion yen ($1.85 billion to $1.97 billion) a year. Host-nation support for fiscal 2021 was 201.7 billion yen.


The U.S. had called on Japan to cover around 250 billion yen of the troops’ costs per year. Tokyo offered to meet the request partway, but emphasized that it wants to reframe the spending as a tool for bolstering the countries’ joint response and deterrence capabilities — as opposed to the traditional arrangement of Japan paying for electricity bills and local-staff wages.


Japan’s new plan represents an increase of around $85 million to $175 million a year from their current arrangement. Though Tokyo has bolstered support for seven straight years since fiscal 2015, it has not implemented a hike of 5% or more since fiscal 1999.


The two sides aim to iron out a new five-year deal by the end of 2021, so it can be incorporated in Japan’s draft budget for fiscal 2022.


“This is a negotiation to transform what was called the ‘sympathy budget’ into a budget for strengthening the alliance,” a senior Japanese defense official said.


The U.S. heavily pressured Japan to expand its cost-sharing burden in the 1970s and 1980s amid fiscal deficits at home. Japanese support continued to increase in the 1990s, especially with Tokyo unable to send the Self-Defense Forces to the Gulf War because of its war-renouncing constitution, until it peaked at 275.6 billion yen in fiscal 1999.


But some of that funding went toward maintaining base facilities like golf courses and bowling alleys, sparking public backlash in Japan. Japan shouldered 74.5% of the costs of the U.S. troops in the country, according to a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Defense — a significantly higher share than South Korea’s 40% and Germany’s 32.6%. Tokyo argued that it was paying too much, and negotiated its support down to around 200 billion yen.


U.S. pressures ramped up once again after Donald Trump became president in 2017. Trump demanded that Japan at least quadruple its payments, and the two sides struggled to reach a new cost-sharing deal to replace the framework that was set to expire this March.


After Joe Biden was elected president in 2020, Japan and the U.S. decided to extend their old arrangement by a year to cover the presidential transition period. Negotiations for a new formal agreement resumed earlier this year.


The Japanese government believes today’s public will not support greater payments for utilities and similar costs. It hopes to satisfy both the U.S. push for greater funding as well as domestic sentiments by focusing instead on strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.


The developments come as East Asia grapples with China’s growing military capabilities. The U.S. considers Japan a critical partner in curbing China’s rise, and has only increased the number of troops here in recent years. A total of 56,000 service members across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps were present in Japan as of September, according to the Pentagon.


The SDF conducted a series of drills with the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps in 2021, practicing remote island defenses and anti-submarine maneuvers with an eye on China. The U.S. has high hopes that Japan will bolster its own defense capabilities moving forward, reinforcing U.S. deterrence in the region. Japan’s new proposal will likely fall in line with American priorities as well.

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