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International relations

Japan punts US base funding deal into Biden era

Tokyo takes unusual step to wait for new administration

U.S. and Japanese jets at Misawa Air Base: Japan helps pay costs for operating American bases under a framework renewed every five years. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

TOKYO -- Japan will not sign a new cost-sharing agreement on American military bases in the country this year, opting instead to negotiate with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, Nikkei has learned.

The current deal on host-nation support expires at the end of March 2021. The two sides would typically negotiate a new five-year agreement by December so that the terms can be reflected in Japan's budget for its upcoming fiscal year, but Tokyo is making a rare break with this practice in light of the presidential transition.

"It will be more advantageous to negotiate with Mr. Biden, who has indicated he values U.S. ties to its allies, than with the current administration, which is demanding a significant increase in our spending," a senior Japanese official said.

Outgoing President Donald Trump has pushed Japan and other allies to shoulder a "fair share" of security costs.

With the presidential transition underway and the Christmas season coming up, Japan sees a new agreement as unlikely by the end of the year. The government will seek about 202.9 billion yen ($1.95 billion) for host-nation support in its fiscal 2021 budget as a stopgap measure until a new deal can be finalized, based on a Defense Ministry request that accounts for wage increases and other costs.

Biden is set to take office on Jan. 20. Japan hopes to reach a new five-year deal before the March end of its fiscal year so that it can be approved in the upcoming parliamentary session, which starts in January.

But with the U.S. budget under strain from its response to the coronavirus, there is no guarantee that pressure to step up Japanese contributions will end under Biden.

Japan and the U.S. held preparatory teleconferences in mid-October for a new deal and held in-person talks the following month in Washington. But the two sides remain far apart, with no compromise in sight, according to a Japanese source familiar with the matter.

Japan believes it already contributes enough to the U.S. military presence here and sees little room for an increase. The government budgeted 199.3 billion yen for host-nation support for fiscal 2020.

Japan contributes to the wages of Japanese employees at the American bases and to utilities under the existing host-nation agreement. A failure to reach a new deal before the current one expires could disrupt these payments, as Japan cannot contribute to them without an agreement in place.

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