Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election is likely to raise concerns that Japan will be pressured to pay even more of the cost of stationing U.S. military forces here.
That could strain bilateral relations at a time when Japan is pushing to bolster the security alliance through divisive legislation that permits the Self-Defense Forces to engage in collective defense, or coming to the rescue of allies under attack. The controversial legislative maneuvering has brought about a landmark shift in defense policy under the war-renouncing Constitution.
As Trump’s victory became clear, Japanese officials quickly highlighted the importance of the alliance, which allows the United States to use military bases to contribute to the security of Japan and maintain peace and security in the Far East.
But a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker said the emerging cost issue could pose a problem, noting that “we have to be prepared” for requests to pay more of the costs.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Friday that Japan was paying enough for the cost of stationing U.S. forces but remained silent on how the government would respond if the incoming Trump administration demands more.
“I believe it is enough. We are bearing the costs of what we ought to pay at present,” Inada told a news conference of the nearly ¥200 billion ($1.9 billion) in host-nation support Tokyo pays each year.
Asked whether Japan would reject a U.S. request to increase host-nation support, Inada said, “I’m not in a position to answer a hypothetical question.”
She stressed the significance of the role that U.S. forces play in Asia’s tough security environment.
“The Japan-U.S. alliance is the linchpin of our country’s security and the U.S. military presence in our country is important not only for our defense, but also for the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region,” she said.
In the face of China’s rising military might and other regional security challenges, Japan has agreed despite its strained finances to increase host-nation support over a five-year period starting last April.
The support, which began in fiscal 1978, covers expenses including salaries for workers and utilities at U.S. military facilities and is shouldered voluntarily.
While Japan relies heavily on the United States for defense, it has actively explored ways to play a more active role in regional security and global peace despite constitutional constraints on use of force.
Most recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration pushed through security legislation that greatly expands the scope of operations the SDF can perform overseas.
The legislation, which took effect in March despite massive public protests, allows U.S. and Japanese troops to work more closely than before, including situations where Japan might have to use collective defense.
But apparently in Trump’s eyes, Japan’s contribution may not be sufficient.
“Our allies are not paying their fare share,” Trump said in a campaign speech in April. He has also threatened to pull U.S. troops out of Japan and South Korea unless they pay more.
Officials in Tokyo said this means the government will likely have to step up efforts to communicate with the new administration in Washington that the U.S. military presence here also serves the interests of the United States.
“If you balance the profits and losses, I don’t think (the United States) is losing out,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said, apparently referring to the fact that Japan is serving as a hub for forward-deployed U.S. forces.
Some 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan. The U.S. 7th Fleet — the U.S. Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet, whose area of responsibility stretches from the Western Pacific to the Indian Ocean — is based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
“Mr. Trump has made various remarks, but I want to ask him what is cost-effective in protecting your own national interests. What are you going to do for operations in the Middle East (without forward-deployed forces)?” the official asked.
Touching on Trump’s business acumen, he added, “I think we should talk about the issue with profit-and-loss arithmetic.”
Municipalities hosting U.S. bases said they want the Trump administration to correctly understand the Japan-U.S. security arrangement.
“We want to work with the (central) government to convey that there are various burdens (linked to U.S. bases),” such as noise problems for residents, said Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa, who heads a liaison council of 15 prefectures hosting U.S. military facilities.
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