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CAMP FOSTER, Japan — Japan said this week it will follow through on obligations to fund U.S. military bases in the country despite some lawmakers arguing the money would be better spent on earthquake relief efforts.

The Diet passed a bill Thursday that will provide $11.35 billion over the next five years to help maintain U.S. bases. Since 1987, Japan has been paying the host-nation support, which includes Japanese employee salaries, utilities, construction and maintenance of base facilities.

But the bill had faced opposition this week from some lawmakers who said the money should instead be used for recovery efforts following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and massive tsunamis.

The disaster has killed more than 11,570 people and left another 170,000 in shelters, according to figures released Friday. Additionally, the Japanese government is still trying to gain the upper hand in the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

Ryoichi Hattori, a member of the Social Democratic Party, urged the government to consider the toll of the disaster and renegotiate the payments with the U.S. during a Wednesday session of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“Can’t the government candidly tell the United States that Japan wants to use the money for [disaster] restoration?” Hattori said.

During the debate, Communist Party Japan member Akira Kasai asked how the government could be expected to pay out annually for the military presence over the next five years when “the situation surrounding Japan has drastically changed after the earthquake.”

Still, the bill was approved by a majority of both Houses on Thursday, the day when the current three-year funding pact was set to expire. Although the Japanese and U.S. governments had agreed in January to renew the pact for five years, it was uncertain if the bill would pass the Upper House, where the ruling Democratic Party does not have a majority of seats.

Meanwhile, Japan’s ministries of defense and foreign affairs defended the spending bill.

“The U.S.-Japan alliance constitutes the foundation of [our] national defense, and the U.S. military plays an important role in defending our country,” Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Wednesday. “The United States is making its maximum efforts to help Japan to respond to the disaster. People witnessed U.S. vessels rush to Japan to help, and the military promptly participated in relief operation.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Takeaki Matsumoto said the funding for bases will strengthen security in Japan and provide stability in the region.

sumidac@pstripes.osd.mil

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