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Japan to continue paying $2 billion for US troops

TOKYO — Japan’s government agreed Tuesday to continue contributing $2.2 billion a year toward the cost of stationing American troops in the country.

Under the agreement with the United States, Japan’s share will remain at the current 188 billion yen ($2.2 billion) through March 2016. The current pact expires next March.

Japan had sought a cut in its payment during months of negotiations on the renewal because of economic woes. But officials agreed on no reduction after tensions on the Korean peninsula and worries over China’s growing military might highlighted the U.S. military’s role as a deterrent for security threats.

"As both Japan and the U.S. are in extremely tight fiscal conditions, we are striving to act under the spirit of our alliance," Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said. "The agreement to maintain the amount is reasonable."

The payment supports the 47,000 American service members based in Japan under a bilateral security pact. Tokyo’s share is about a third of the total, and about three times what Germany pays to host U.S. forces on its soil.

The flash point in the debate is the southern island of Okinawa, where most of the nearly 100 U.S. facilities in Japan are located. The pending relocation of an unpopular U.S. Marine base on the island has strained relations between the two countries.

Japanese living near U.S. military facilities have long complained about aircraft noise and crime.

Japan’s new reformist government, seeking a more equal relationship with the U.S. while dealing with a struggling economy, has scrutinized the spending that conservative former administrations took for granted. That was bad timing for Washington, which has seen its defense budget stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 1978, Japan has paid much of the cost of supporting the American troops, including utilities, maintenance and upgrades of facilities, plus the wages of more than 20,000 Japanese civilians working on the bases.

Tokyo’s share has decreased steadily since 2001, largely due to the weak economy and the objections of the current governing party when it was in the opposition. Costs have been cut in part by reducing utilities payments and the number of Japanese base employees.

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