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Japan to allocate $1.9B 'sympathy budget' for US bases in FY 2021 after discord

Yokota Air Base, located in a residential area in the suburban Tokyo city of Akishima, is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is set to allocate some 200 billion yen (about $1.9 billion) for the country's contribution to host U.S. military bases to the fiscal 2021 initial budget proposal -- about the same amount as fiscal 2020 -- after judging that it would be difficult to reach an agreement with the United States by the end of the year as Washington requested that the amount be significantly increased.

    Japan's current contribution, known as "omoiyari yosan" or "sympathy budget," is set to expire in March 2021. It is unusual for Tokyo to set aside the budget without an agreement with Washington.

    The Japanese government will continue to negotiate with the current U.S. government under President Donald Trump, but is poised to carry substantive discussions over to after President-elect Joe Biden assumes office in January 2021. The negotiations between the two countries over the budget have been delayed significantly due to the U.S. presidential election in November and the coronavirus pandemic. Tokyo plans to allocate about the same amount set aside in fiscal 2020 (199.3 billion yen) to the fiscal 2021 budget, and if it could conclude a deal with Washington after the turn of the year, it would include the difference in the supplementary budget bill.

    The special supplementary accord to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which serves as the grounds for the sympathy budget, gets renewed about once every five years. Under the current accord, Japan is to shoulder a total of 946.5 billion yen (approximately $9.1 billion) covering salaries of workers on U.S. bases as well as utility bills, among other expenses, between fiscal 2016 and 2020.

    Official negotiations between Japan and the United States kicked off in November in Washington D.C. following online meetings in October. Tokyo initially sought to strike an agreement with Washington by the end of the year over a five-year budget starting in fiscal 2021, or, if proven difficult, a provisional one-year plan for just fiscal 2021, but the U.S. rejected Japan's proposals.

    If the two allies resumed negotiations after the Biden administration launches on Jan. 20, it's possible for Washington to take time for preparations and it remains unclear if Japan and the United States can come to terms for a five-year budget plan by the end of this fiscal year.

    (Japanese original by Akiko Kato and Shu Hatakeyama, Political News Department)

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