Japan and the United States signed an agreement last month on a five-year extension of Japan’s host-nation financial support to help cover part of the costs of stationing U.S. forces in Japan under the bilateral security arrangement.

Called “omoiyari yosan” (sympathy budget) in Japanese, the new special agreement extends by five years the current three-year arrangement that is to expire at the end of March and consists mainly of Japan’s annual outlay of ¥188.1 billion, almost the same as the current amount. The government wants to have the new agreement approved by the Diet by the end of March.

Despite the parliamentary division with the Upper House controlled by the opposition forces, there seems to be no major obstacle to Diet approval of the agreement. In particular, unstable situations abroad favor efforts to secure effective activities of the U.S. forces in this part of the Pacific.

Recent military moves in China and North Korea lend strong support for measures to make the Japan-U.S. alliance even more effective. Viewed against this backdrop, there appears to be no particular reason for opposing the government’s plan to continue shouldering part of the financial burdens on the United States.

But the quiet way of preparing the host-nation budget agreement has drawn public attention to the extraordinarily swift change in the Democratic Party of Japan’s basic position on an important issue. This does not mean that we are arguing against the extension of financial cooperation with the U.S. Yet, we are reminded that, back in 2008, increasing Chinese military strength and North Korea’s provocative moves were already posing threats to neighboring countries, encouraging debates in favor of closer ties between Japan and the U.S.

In this situation, the DPJ, which was struggling to become win more popular support to become the party in power, strongly opposed the host-nation support budget in the Diet. The DPJ argued that Japan’s share of such financial cooperation with the U.S. was too prominent even if the party understood the importance of the bilateral alliance. It demanded establishment of a specific basis for disbursing such a huge budget.

Although the relevant bill seeking Diet approval of the agreement was rejected in the Upper House controlled by the opposition parties, it was subsequently approved under the constitutional stipulation that a Lower House decision pre-empts that of the Upper House concerning such an agreement.

However, no reform seems to have been made since then to further clarify the process of disbursement and to attain fair burden sharing between the two countries. By so saying, we would like to shed light on the DPJ’s abrupt change in policy without a reasonable rewriting of its previous policy. In democratic and responsible politics, the end does not necessarily justify the means.

Japan’s host-nation support budget reached a peak of ¥275.6 billion in fiscal 1999 and has since then been steadily declining. This is a welcome development. But the comparatively long valid period for the new agreement risks helping to fix Japan’s burden at a level higher than is appropriate despite financial difficulties plaguing this country.

For months after the DPJ took power, Japan’s relations with the U.S. were strained as the new Cabinet headed by Mr. Yukio Hatoyama was out of kilter with the U.S. over the proposed relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa. New Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who replaced Mr. Hatoyama last summer, apparently learned a bitter lesson from this and shifted to the policy of keeping a close rapport with Washington.

The draft host-nation support budget for fiscal 2011 (next April through March) consists of about ¥138.4 billion to cover wages for Japanese employed at U.S. bases, costs for utilities (lighting, fuel and water) within bases and costs for moving training; about ¥20.6 billion to cover maintenance and improvement costs for facilities offered by Japan; and about ¥26.8 billion to cover welfare and other measures for employees — for a total of about ¥185.8 billion, 1.2 percent less than the current fiscal year. Budgets to cover labor costs for local employees and expenses for lighting, fuel and water will be gradually reduced and allocated toward facility maintenance and improvement costs.

When the DPJ spoke against Japan’s high share of financial support for the U.S. forces in Japan in the past, the party singled out, for example, golf courses and other similar facilities within U.S. bases as items that cannot justify their inclusion in the support budget.

At a press conference at the end of last month, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said the new agreement is “a special strategic agreement” signed in the context of Japan’s security and diplomacy. He insisted that the host-nation support budget under the new special agreement is an arrangement to meet the real need of maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance.

To show the agreement is appropriate, the DPJ government should clarify in the Diet the details of Japan’s financial burden-sharing and the reason for the DPJ’s change in policy on host-nation financial support.

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