The United States and Japan are set to announce a significant strengthening of their military relationship and the upgrade of the U.S. military’s force posture in the country this week, including the stationing of a newly redesignated marine unit with advanced intelligence, surveillance and anti-missile fire capability from ships, according to two US officials briefed on the matter.
The announcement sends a strong signal to China and will be part of a series of initiatives to highlight a rapid acceleration of security and intelligence ties between the countries.
The news is expected to be announced on Wednesday as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken meet with their Japanese counterparts in Washington. The officials are meeting as part of the annual U.S.-Japan Security Advisory Committee meeting, days before President Joe Biden plans to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House.
The newly revamped marine unit will be based in Okinawa and aims to bolster deterrence against Chinese aggression in a volatile region and provide a surge force capable of defending Japan and responding quickly to contingencies, the officials said. Okinawa is considered key to US military operations in the Pacific, in part because of its proximity to Taiwan. It is home to more than 25,000 US service members and more than two dozen military installations. About 70% of US military bases in Japan are in Okinawa; an island in Okinawa prefecture, Yonaguni, is less than 70 miles from Taiwan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
This is one of the most significant adjustments to the posture of US military forces in the region in years, an official says, underscoring the Pentagon’s willingness to move from past wars in the Middle East to the region of the future in the Indo-Pacific. . The change comes as simulated war games from a leading Washington think tank found that Japan, and Okinawa in particular, would play a vital role in a military conflict with China, giving the United States options for deployment and base.
“I think it’s fair to say that in my view, 2023 will likely be the most transformative year for the posture of U.S. forces in the region in a generation,” said Ely Ratner, Deputy Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security. Affairs, at the American Enterprise Institute last month.
The news follows the establishment of the first Marine Littoral Regiment in Hawaii last year, in which the 3rd Marine Regiment in Hawaii became the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment – a key part of the Marine Corps modernization effort described in the 2030 Force Design report. of General David Berger.
As the service described them, the Marine Littoral Regiments are a “mobile, low-signature” unit capable of conducting strikes, coordinating air and missile defense, and supporting surface warfare.
The Washington Post first reported the changes that will be announced soon.
In addition to restructuring the nation’s Marines, the United States and Japan will announce on Wednesday that they are expanding their defense treaty to include attacks to or from space, U.S. officials said, amid… growing concern over the rapid advancement of the Chinese space program and development of hypersonic weapons.
In November, China launched three astronauts to its nearly completed space station as Beijing sought to establish a long-term presence in space. China has also explored the far side of the Moon and Mars.
The two allies will announce that Article V of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, first signed in 1951, applies to attacks from or in space, officials said. In 2019, the United States and Japan made it clear that the defense treaty applied to cyberspace and that a cyberattack could constitute an armed attack in certain circumstances.
The United States has closely followed China’s rapid development of its hypersonic weapons systems, including a missile in 2021 that circled the globe before launching a hypersonic glider that hit its target. It was a wake-up call for the United States, which has fallen behind China and Russia in advanced hypersonic technology.
The two countries will also build on their joint use of facilities in Japan and carry out more exercises on Japan’s southwestern islands, a move that is sure to draw ire from Beijing, given its proximity. with Taiwan and even mainland China. US officials added that the United States would temporarily deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to Japan for maritime surveillance of the East China Sea, as well as launch a bilateral group to analyze and share information.
The announcement comes less than a month after Japan unveiled a new national security plan that signals the country’s biggest military buildup since World War II, doubling defense spending and straying from its pacifist constitution in the face of growing threats from regional rivals, including China.
China has been building up its naval and air forces in areas near Japan while claiming the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited chain under Japanese control in the East China Sea, as its sovereign territory.
In late December, Japan said Chinese government vessels had been spotted in the contiguous zone around the Senkakus, known as Diaoyus in China, 334 days in 2022, the most since 2012 when Tokyo acquired some of the islands from from a private Japanese landowner, public broadcaster NHK reported. From Dec. 22 to 25, Chinese government vessels spent nearly 73 consecutive hours in Japanese territorial waters off the islands, the longest such incursion since 2012, according to the NHK report.
China has also increased its military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island, whose security Japanese leaders have said is vital to the security of Japan itself. In August, that pressure included Beijing firing five missiles that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near Taiwan in response to a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Even before the announcement of the increased partnership between the United States and Japan was made public, Chinese government officials were reacting to reports from the Japanese media.
“U.S.-Japan military cooperation should not harm any third-party interests or undermine peace and stability in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a briefing. regular press on Tuesday in Beijing.
A State Department official explained that the war in Ukraine and the strengthening of Sino-Russian relations have prompted the United States and Japan to enter into a series of new agreements that have been under consideration for some time.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine kind of moved things on the warp engine a bit,” the official said. “The relationship between Putin and Xi Jinping that we saw in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics kind of showed, wait a minute, that Russians and Chinese are working in new ways. We face new challenges.
And it’s not just the United States – Japan and Britain also announced on Wednesday that the two countries would sign a “historic defense agreement” that would allow them to deploy forces to each other’s countries. .
The reciprocal access agreement will allow both forces to plan military exercises and deployments on a larger and more complex scale, making it “the most significant defense agreement between the two countries in more than a year. century,” according to a statement released in Downing Street on Wednesday. .
The agreement still needs to be ratified by the respective parliaments before coming into force. It will be tabled in the Japanese Diet and the British Parliament in the coming weeks, according to the statement.