©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The F-15 and F-2 fighter jets of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s 5th and 8th Air Force Squadrons conduct a joint military exercise with the F-35B fighter jets of US Marine Aircraft Group 12 off Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu, Japan, made by handout photo b
By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Japan on Wednesday announced increased security cooperation amid shared concerns about China, and Washington strongly backed a major military buildup that Tokyo announced last month.
A joint statement released after their foreign and defense ministers met in Washington said the two countries had “delivered a vision of a modernized alliance that will prevail in a new era of strategic competition.”
“We agree that the PRC is the greatest shared strategic challenge facing us and our allies and partners,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a joint press conference after the meeting, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
At the briefing, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced plans to establish a Marine Littoral Regiment in Japan that would bring significant capabilities, including anti-ship missiles, with it. Blinken said the two sides also agreed to extend the terms of their joint defense treaty to space.
The joint statement said that in the face of “a highly competitive environment,” the forward posture of U.S. forces in Japan should be improved “by deploying more versatile, resilient and mobile forces with increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, anti-ship and transport capabilities.” “
Austin will meet again with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada Thursday at the Pentagon ahead of a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.
A senior government official told Reuters that Biden and Kishida are expected to discuss security issues and the global economy, and that their talks are likely to include controlling semiconductor exports to China after Washington announced tough restrictions last year.
Although the total number of U.S. troops in Japan will not change, the new deployments could be the first of several announcements this year on forces in Asia aimed at making Beijing think twice before launching one triggers conflict.
The deal follows nearly a year of talks and comes after Japan last month announced its biggest military buildup since World War II – a dramatic departure from seven decades of pacifism fueled by concerns about Chinese actions in the region.
This five-year plan will double Japan’s defense spending to 2% of its gross domestic product and result in it procuring missiles that can hit ships or land-based targets at a range of 1,000 km (600 miles).
Asked about the Japanese reforms, Blinken said:
“It’s simple, we wholeheartedly welcome the new strategies, especially because there is … a remarkable convergence between our strategy and our strategies and that of Japan.
“We welcome the commitment to increase investments, enhance roles, missions and capabilities … and closer cooperation not only between the United States and Japan but also with other allies and other partners,” he said. “We already have a strong foundation that will only grow.”
The anti-ship missiles will arrive in Japan under a revamped Marine Corps regiment of 2,000 soldiers that will focus on advanced intelligence, surveillance and transport, US officials told Reuters. The move is expected to be completed by 2025.
Officials added that a separate U.S. Army company of about 300 troops and 13 ships would be deployed by this spring to help transport U.S. and Japanese troops and equipment and allow for rapid deployment of forces.
Japan is watching with growing concern China’s bellicose stance on Taiwan as Beijing seeks to assert its claims to sovereignty over the island.
Austin noted increased Chinese military activity near the Taiwan Straits but said he seriously doubts they are a sign of plans for an imminent invasion of the island by Beijing.
Japan is home to 18,000 US Marines, the largest concentration outside of the United States. Most are on the main island of Okinawa, which is part of a chain stretching along the edge of the East China Sea to about 100 km (62 miles) from Taiwan.
The large US presence has fueled local resentment, with the Okinawa government urging other parts of Japan to host some of the force. In total there are about 54,000 US troops in Japan.