The United States and Japan on Wednesday announced a significant strengthening of their military relationship and an upgrade to the US military’s force posture in the country, including the stationing of a newly redesignated Marine unit with intelligence advanced intelligence, surveillance capabilities and the ability to fire anti-aircraft missiles. , according to two US officials briefed on the matter.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a press conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu that the 12th Regiment of Marines, an artillery regiment, would be redesignated as the 12th Marine Coastal Regiment.
“We are replacing an artillery regiment with a team that is, more lethal, more agile, more capable,” he said, adding that the move would “strengthen deterrence in the region and allow us to defend Japan and its people more effectively.” ”
The announcement sends a strong signal to China and came as part of a series of initiatives designed to underscore a rapid acceleration of security and intelligence ties between the countries.
The officials met Wednesday as part of the annual US-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 is intended to provide a support force that is capable of defending Japan and responding quickly to contingencies, US officials said Wednesday. 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 military personnel and more than two dozen military installations. Approximately 70% of US military bases in Japan are located in Okinawa; An 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 adjustments to the posture of US military force in the region in years, one official said, underscoring the Pentagon’s desire 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 by a major Washington think tank found that Japan, and Okinawa in particular, would play a critical role in a military conflict with China, providing the United States with advanced deployment and basic options.
“I think it’s fair to say that, in my view, 2023 is likely to be the most transformative year for the posture of U.S. forces in the region in a generation,” said Ely Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defense for in Indo-Pacific Security. Affairs, at the American Enterprise Institute last month.
The news follows the commissioning of the first Marine Coastal Regiment in Hawaii last year, in which the 3rd Marine Regiment in Hawaii became the 3rd Marine Coastal Regiment, a key part of the ‘ Marine Corps modernization effort described in the 2030 force design report. by Gen. David Berger.
As the service has described them, the Coast Guard Regiments are a “mobile, low-signature” unit capable of conducting strikes, coordinating air and missile defense, and supporting surface warfare.
The soon-to-be-announced changes were first reported by the Washington Post.
Japan Expands Defense of Its Southern First Line to Counter China (April 2022)
In addition to restructuring the country’s navies, the US and Japan announced on Wednesday that they are expanding their defense treaty to include strikes from space amid growing concerns about China’s rapidly advancing space program and the development of hypersonic weapons.
In November, China launched three astronauts to its nearly completed space station as Beijing seeks to establish a long-term presence in space. China has also explored the far side of the Moon and Mars.
The two allies announced that Article V of the United States-Japan Security Treaty, first signed in 1951, applies to attacks from or into outer space, the officials said. In 2019, the US and Japan made clear that the defense treaty applies to cyberspace and that a cyber attack could constitute an armed attack in certain circumstances.
“We are working to deepen our cooperation in all areas: land, sea, air and yes, space, cyber and outer space,” Blinken said Wednesday. “The space component of this is important to the security and prosperity of our alliance. We agree, as you have heard, that attacks in, from, or in space pose a clear challenge, and we assert that, depending of the nature of these attacks, this could lead to the invocation of Article V of our Japan-United States security treaty.”
Blinken added that he and Yoshimasa would sign a space agreement later this week during a visit to NASA headquarters in Washington. A NASA statement on Wednesday said the agreement “will build on nations’ commitment to the peaceful and transparent exploration of space.”
The United States has watched closely as China has rapidly developed 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 take advantage of the joint use of facilities in Japan and conduct more exercises in Japan’s southwestern islands, a move that is sure to anger Beijing, given its proximity to Taiwan and even in mainland China. US officials added that the US will 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 announcements came less than a month after Japan unveiled a new national security plan that signals the country’s biggest military build-up since World War II, doubling defense spending and deviating 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 as it claims the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled chain in the East China Sea, as sovereign territory.
In late December, Japan said Chinese government ships had been spotted in the contiguous area around the Senkakus, known as the Diaoyus in China, for 334 days in 2022, the most since 2012, when Tokyo acquired some of the islands of a Japanese private owner, public public. broadcaster NHK reported. From December 22 to 25, Chinese government ships spent nearly 73 consecutive hours in Japanese territorial waters off the islands, the longest 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 say 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 by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Taipei.
Even before the announcement of the increased partnership between the US and Japan was made public, Chinese government officials were reacting to Japanese media reports.
“Military cooperation between the United States and Japan should not harm the interests of any third party or undermine peace and stability in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a statement. regular press conference on Tuesday in Beijing.
A State Department official explained that the war in Ukraine and the strengthening of the China-Russia relationship have spurred the US and Japan to reach a series of new agreements that have been under consideration for some time.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine moved things a little bit in the warp drive,” the official said. “The relationship between Putin and Xi Jinping that we saw before the Beijing Olympics showed, wait a minute, the Russians and the Chinese are working in new ways. We are facing new challenges.”
And not just the United States: Japan and Britain also announced Wednesday that the two countries would sign a “historic defense agreement” that would allow them to deploy forces in 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 important defense agreement between the two countries in more than a century,” according to a announced from Downing Street on Wednesday. .
The agreement still needs to be ratified by the respective parliaments before entering into force. It will be presented to Japan’s Diet and the UK Parliament in the coming weeks, the statement said.