Asia Minute: Payment Questions Surround U.S. Forces in Asia Pacific

Nov 20, 2019

Talks about payment for U.S. forces in South Korea broke down this week. Government teams from the two countries remain far apart on a deal that expires in about six weeks — and the negotiations are drawing attention elsewhere in the region.

About 29,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in South Korea.

Roughly 50,000 are based in Japan.

President Trump wants both countries to pay more in support of the forces — a familiar theme since his campaign days.

The agreement covering U.S. forces in South Korea expires at the end of this year. The deal involving U.S. forces in Japan expires in the spring of 2021.

South Korea now pays the U.S. roughly a billion dollars a year, and Japan pays about twice that amount according to the country’s Defense Ministry.

U.S. officials have not confirmed how much the Trump administration is seeking, but media reports in South Korea quote a figure of 5-billion dollars — five times the current level. Foreign Policy Magazine quotes current and former Trump administration officials as saying the ask to Tokyo is about 8-billion dollars — roughly four times the current level.

U.S. forces serve different purposes in each location. The South Korean command is largely focused on North Korea. In Japan, it’s a broader regional focus — the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. Navy is based there, along with the Marines Third Expeditionary Force, and an extensive presence of air force and army personnel.

Forces in both locations report through Indo-Pacific Command — based here on O’ahu.