TOKYO -- As delayed negotiations on a cost-sharing deal for American troops in Japan begin, some Japanese officials favor putting off an agreement until after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, Nikkei has learned.
Tokyo aims to reach some sort of deal by the end of the year, so the new terms can be reflected in the 2021 fiscal year starting in April.
But given the short time frame and the Trump administration's push for greater Japanese contributions, some believe it is time to consider an alternative plan.
"We will continue negotiations with an eye on the security landscape in East Asia, Japan's fiscal position, and the fact that the U.S. is facing a presidential transition," Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters Monday.
The current five-year agreement on host-nation support expires at the end of March 2021. In a typical year, Japan and the U.S. would have begun discussing a replacement deal before the summer in order to reach an agreement by December, when the Japanese government drafts its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
But the coronavirus pandemic, combined with the U.S. presidential election, delayed negotiations this year. It is unusual for the election, which happens every four years, to fall on the same year as the funding negotiations, which happen every five.
The two countries held their first preparatory teleconference from Oct. 15 to 16, and did not hold an in-person meeting until Nov. 9. Japan is mainly interested in an interim one-year deal given how little time there is before the end of 2020.
U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured Japan and other allies to shoulder a "fair share" of security costs, and is expected to demand that Japan pay more under the new host-nation agreement. Meanwhile, Tokyo argues that it already contributes enough and has little room for an increase.
With difficult negotiations expected, some Japanese officials now want to delay the replacement deal until after Biden takes office. Biden has stressed the importance of U.S. allies throughout his campaign, and is expected to be more willing to compromise than Trump, who often linked security issues to trade.
If the agreement is pushed back to next year, the Japanese government cannot include an accurate figure for host-nation support in its draft fiscal 2021 budget, to be submitted to the regular session of parliament starting in January. It will likely list a temporary estimate instead, a figure expected to be similar to the 199.3 billion yen ($1.9 billion) budgeted in fiscal 2020.
Japan would still need to reach an agreement with the U.S. before the current deal expires. Some have called for extending the current arrangement as is for a year if Japan cannot get a new version approved by parliament by the end of March.