The United States and Japan are set to announce this week a significant boost to their military relationship and an upgrade to the U.S. military’s posture in the country, including the deployment of a newly redesigned Marine unit with advanced intelligence, surveillance capabilities and the ability to fire anti-ship missiles, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the matter.
The announcement sends a strong signal to China and comes as part of initiatives to rapidly speed up security and intelligence ties between the countries.
The news is expected to be announced on Wednesday when US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken meet their Japanese counterparts in Washington. Officials gather for the annual meeting of the US-Japan Security Advisory Committee, 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 will be aimed at strengthening deterrence against Chinese aggression in the volatile region and creating a force that can defend Japan and respond quickly to contingencies, officials said. Okinawa is considered a key US military base for operations in the Pacific, in part because of its proximity to Taiwan. It houses more than 25,000 US troops and more than two dozen military installations. About 70% of US military bases in Japan are located in Okinawa; One island in Okinawa Prefecture, Yonaguni, is less than 70 miles from Taiwan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
It is one of the most significant changes to U.S. military forces in the region in years, one official said, underscoring the Pentagon’s desire to transition from past wars in the Middle East to a future in the Indo-Pacific. . The change comes as simulated war games by a prominent Washington think tank found that Japan, and Okinawa in particular, would play a major role in a military conflict with China, providing the United States with pre-deployment and basing capabilities.
“I think it’s fair to say that 2023, in my view, will likely be the most transformative year in the US force posture in the region in a generation,” said Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for the Indo-Pacific. Last month at the American Enterprise Institute.
The news follows the first Marine Regiment in Hawaii last year, when the 3rd Marine Regiment in Hawaii became the 3rd Marine Regiment, a key part of the Marine Corps’ modernization effort outlined in Vision 2030. in the force design report. from General David Berger.
As described by the service, the Coast Guard is a “mobile, low-signature” unit capable of conducting strikes, coordinating air and missile defenses, and supporting ground warfare.
The Washington Post first reported the soon-to-be-announced changes.
In addition to restructuring the Marine Corps at home, the United States and Japan will announce on Wednesday that they are expanding their defense treaty to include attacks in or out of space, US officials said, amid growing concerns about China’s rapidly advancing space program. development of hypersonic weapons.
In November, China launched three astronauts to its near-complete space station as Beijing seeks to secure a long-term presence in space. China has also explored the far side of the Moon and Mars.
The two allies will declare that Article V of the US-Japan Security Treaty, first signed in 1951, applies to attacks from or inside space, officials said. in 2019 The US and Japan have made it clear that the defense treaty applies to cyberspace and that a cyber attack can be considered an armed attack under certain circumstances.
The US has watched closely as China rapidly develops its own hypersonic weapons systems, including one missile in 2021 that circled the globe before launching a hypersonic glider that hit a target. It was a wake-up call for the United States, which lags behind China and Russia in advanced hypersonic technology.
The two countries will also share facilities in Japan and conduct more exercises in Japan’s southwestern islands, which is sure to anger Beijing given its proximity to Taiwan and even mainland China. US officials added that the US will temporarily deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to Japan for maritime surveillance in the East China Sea, as well as establish a bilateral group to analyze and share information.
The announcement comes less than a month after Japan unveiled a new national security plan that sees the country’s biggest military increase since World War II, doubling defense spending and moving away from its pacifist constitution amid growing threats from regional rivals including China.
China is building up its navy and air force in areas near Japan and claims the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled chain in the East China Sea, as its sovereign territory.
In late December, Japan reported that Chinese government ships had been sighted in the adjacent zone around the Senkakus, known in China as the Diaoyus, for 334 days in 2022, the most since Tokyo acquired some of the islands from a private Japanese landowner in 2012. broadcaster NHK reported. From December 22 to 25, Chinese government vessels spent nearly 73 consecutive hours in Japan’s territorial waters near the islands, the longest such incursion since 2012, NHK said in a report.
China is also increasing its military pressure on Taiwan, a self-governing island whose security Japanese leaders say is vital to Japan’s own security. In August, Beijing launched five missiles that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near Taiwan in response to a visit to Taipei by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Even before the announcement of the enhanced U.S.-Japan partnership, Chinese government officials responded to Japanese media reports.
“US-Japan military cooperation should not harm the interests of any third country or undermine peace and stability in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
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.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine stirred things up a bit,” the official said. “The relationship between Putin and Xi Jinping that we saw before the Beijing Olympics showed, wait, the Russians and the Chinese are working in new ways. We are facing new challenges.”
And it’s not just the US – Japan and Britain also announced on Wednesday that the two countries will sign a “historic defense agreement” that would allow them to deploy forces in each other’s countries.
The mutual access agreement will allow both forces to plan larger and more sophisticated military exercises and deployments, making it “the most important defense agreement between the two countries in more than a century,” Downing Street said in a statement on Wednesday. .
For the agreement to enter into force, it still needs to be ratified by the respective parliaments. It will be submitted to the Japanese parliament and the UK parliament in the coming weeks, according to the statement.