The U.S. and Japan announced a major strengthening of their military relationship and an upgrade to the U.S. military’s posture in the country on Wednesday, including the deployment of newly reassigned Marines with advanced intelligence, surveillance and anti-ship missile capabilities, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the matter. on the matter.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a press conference with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu that the 12th Marine Regiment, Artillery Regiment, will be renamed the 12th sea coast regiment
“We are replacing an artillery regiment with equipment that is more lethal, more flexible, 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 message sends a a strong signal to China and came as part of a series of initiatives designed to highlight the rapid acceleration of security and intelligence ties between the countries.
The officials met on Wednesday as part of 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 Corps will be based in Okinawa and is designed to provide a reserve force that is able to defend Japan and respond quickly to emergencies, US officials said on Wednesday. Okinawa is seen as the key to US military operations in the Pacific – in part because of this close to Taiwan. They are housed in it more than 25,000 US military personnel and more than two dozen military installations. Approximately 70% of US military bases in Japan are on Okinawa; one island within Okinawa Prefecture, Yonaguni, lies less than 70 miles from Taiwan, according to Council on Foreign Relations.
It is one of the most significant adjustments to the posture of US military forces in the region in years, one official said, underscoring the Pentagon’s desire to shift from the wars of the past in the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region of the future. Change comes as simulated war games from a prominent 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 forward deployment and basing capabilities.
“I think it’s fair to say that, in my view, 2023 is probably going to be the most transformative year in the US force posture in the region in a generation,” said Eli Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Security – the Pacific region. affairs, at the American Enterprise Institute last month.
The news follows the raising of the first Marine Coastal Regiment in Hawaii last year, in which the 3rd Marine Coastal Regiment in Hawaii became the 3rd Marine Coastal Regiment — a key part of the Marine Corps’ modernization effort described in 2030 Force Design report by gen. David Berger.
Like the service has described themmaritime littoral regiments are a “low ensign mobile unit” capable of conducting strikes, coordinating air and missile defenses, and sustaining surface combat operations.
The Washington Post reported for the first time changes to be announced soon.
In addition to restructuring the country’s marines, the US and Japan announced on Wednesday that they are expanding their defense treaty to include attacks to or from space amid growing concern over the rapid progress of China’s space program and development of hypersonic weapons.
In November, China launched three astronauts to its nearly completed space station as Beijing looked to establish a long-term presence in space. China has also explored the far side of the Moon and Mars.
The two allies declared 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 US and Japan made it clear that the defense treaty applies to cyberspace and that a cyber attack can constitute an armed attack under certain circumstances.
“We are working to deepen our cooperation in every sphere: 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 union. We agree, as you have heard, that attacks to, from, or in outer space present a distinct challenge, and we acknowledge that depending on the nature of these attacks, this may result in the invocation of Article V of our Japan-US Security Treaty.”
Blinken added that he and Yoshimasa would sign a space agreement later this week during a visit to NASA headquarters in Washington. An announcement Wednesday from NASA said the agreement would “build on nations’ commitment to peaceful, transparent space exploration.”
The US has watched closely as China rapidly develops its hypersonic weapons systems, including one 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 upgrade their joint use of facilities in Japan and conduct more exercises in Japan’s southwestern islands, a move sure to draw Beijing’s ire 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 of the East China Sea, as well as launch a bilateral group to analyze and share the information.
The announcements came less than a month after Japan unveiled a new national security plan that signaled the country’s biggest military build-up since World War II, a doubling of defense spending and a departure from its pacifist constitution in the face of growing threats from regional rivals, including China.
China is increasing its naval and air forces in areas near Japan as it claims the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited chain controlled by Japan in the East China Sea, as its sovereign territory.
In late December, Japan said Chinese government ships had been sighted 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 from a private Japanese landowner, public broadcaster NHK reported. From December 22 to 25, Chinese government ships spent almost 73 consecutive hours in Japanese territorial waters off the islands, the longest such incursion since 2012, the NHK report said.
China has also increased its military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island whose security Japanese leaders say is vital to Japan’s own security. 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 to Taipei.
Before the announcement of the enhanced US-Japan partnership was even made public, Chinese government officials reacted to reports in the Japanese media.
“Military cooperation between the US and Japan must 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 briefing on Tuesday in Beijing.
A State Department official explained that the war in Ukraine and strengthening China-Russia relations have prompted the US and Japan to reach a series of new agreements that have been under consideration for some time.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine kind of put things into warp motion,” the official said. “The relationship between Putin and Xi Jinping that we saw in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics showed this kind of, wait a minute, 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 will allow them to deploy forces in each other’s countries.
The reciprocal access agreement will allow the two 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 for more than a century,” according to a statement from Downing Street in Wednesday.
The agreement still needs to be ratified by the respective parliaments before it can enter into force. It will be presented to Japan’s parliament and the UK parliament in the coming weeks, according to the statement.
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