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News Navigator: How much does Japan pay to host U.S. military forces?


The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about how much Japan is paying for the United States military bases it hosts, and how those costs compare to those borne by other nations with U.S. bases on their territory.

Question: Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the U.S. presidential election, has called on U.S. allies to cover the entire cost of hosting U.S. bases on their territory, hasn't he?

Answer: During an interview with American media outlets, Trump has mentioned Japan and other U.S. allies by name, saying that they should pay all costs for bases within their borders. The statements stem from deep-rooted criticism in the U.S. that allies dependent on U.S. military power for their security are getting a "free ride."

Q: So how much is Japan paying for the U.S. bases here?

A: The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement states that, as a basic principle, Japan must bear the costs relating to hosting U.S. bases while the United States pays for maintaining U.S. military facilities and operational expenditures. In the late 1970s, when Japan was seeing rapid economic growth and consumer price increases while the U.S. economy was in trouble, Japan also agreed to pay part of the labor costs for non-military base employees as well as facility maintenance costs. Since fiscal 1987, Japan has been paying the entirety of those labor expenses plus utility costs that are supposed to be covered by the U.S.

These payments are covered under something called the "sympathy budget," with which Japan sought to allay criticism that Japan was getting a "free ride" on defense. These annual payments peaked in fiscal 1999 at 275.6 billion yen and have been on a generally downward trend due to Japan's economic downturn. They now stand at about 190 billion yen.

Q: I've heard that Japan is paying for the cost of realigning U.S. forces here. Is that true?

A: It is true indeed. Based on the final report of the U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa in 1996, the costs of returning land used by the U.S. military, noise reduction measures, moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago and shifting some U.S. Marines to Guam must all be borne by Japan. Overall costs for U.S. forces realignment have recently been swelling fast as base moves get underway. Including fees to the owners of land occupied by U.S. military installations and spending on the areas around bases, Japan spent a total of some 725 billion yen in connection with the facilities -- more than double the central government's Okinawa Prefecture promotion budget.

Q: Wow, Japan is carrying a heavy load, yes?

A: The United States has about $5.5 billion budgeted for its military presence in Japan in fiscal 2016. That's around 600 billion yen, so Japan is in fact paying much more for the U.S. forces here than the United States itself.

According to U.S. documents from 2004, Japan pays more than 70 percent of the cost of hosting U.S. forces, as compared to between 30 and 40 percent in South Korea, Germany, and other nations. However, as the role of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) expands under new security-related legislation, the Finance Ministry's Fiscal System Council has declared that U.S. military hosting costs "must be re-evaluated and reduced."

Q: How has Japan responded to Trump's comments?

A: The reaction has mostly been one of bewilderment, including former Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba (now minister in charge of regional economic revitalization), who said, "I would like Mr. Trump to have another good read of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty." Japanese government figures believe that Japan paying most of the expenses for hosting U.S. bases as well as providing the land they stand on is very much in the U.S. national interest. One source close to the SDF said, "It's the U.S. that would be in trouble if it pulled out of Japan," as it would lose influence in Asia. (Answers by Akira Murao, Political News Department)

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