Japan bracing for defense negotiation with U.S., report says

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Japan is looking to extend its current defense burden sharing agreement with the United States, as 2021 remains uncertain amid the coronavirus pandemic and the November U.S. presidential election.

The Sankei Shimbun reported Tuesday the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is planning to extend the cost-sharing agreement for U.S. troops in Japan by a year. The extension could buy Japan time to prepare for a full-scale negotiation with Washington in 2021, the report says.

Tokyo and Washington renegotiate the Special Measures Agreement every five years. The current agreement expires in March. An extension would also suit Japan’s budgetary needs; the country finalizes fiscal spending in late December of every year.

The renegotiation has been delayed due to COVID-19 and the uncertainty that accompanies a U.S. election year.

According to the Sankei, Japan is prepared for a “significant hike” in defense costs if Donald Trump is re-elected president. The Trump administration has clashed with neighboring South Korea over defense costs, and the two sides have yet to resolve differences. Washington has sought a five-fold increase, or about $5 billion in annual contributions from South Korea for 28,500 U.S. troops. Seoul has declined the U.S. demand.

There are about 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan, and the Japanese government remains wary of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Tuesday that North Korea is developing ballistic missiles at an “extremely fast pace,” following Pyongyang’s 75th anniversary military parade on Saturday.

Kishi said North Korea is improving its ability to launch a surprise attack, and Tokyo must step up interception, NHK and the Nikkei reported.

In 2017, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles over Japan. Kim Jong Un has declined to meet with Japanese leaders, despite offers of unconditional summits from Suga and his predecessor Shinzo Abe.