WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) – The United States and Japan on Wednesday announced intensified security cooperation amid shared concerns about China, with Washington strongly backing a major military buildup Tokyo announced last month.
“We agree that China is the greatest common strategic challenge facing us and our allies and partners,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met their Japanese counterparts in Washington, citing People’s Republic of China. .
At the same press conference, Austin announced plans to introduce a Marine Littoral Regiment in Japan, which would bring significant capabilities, including anti-ship missiles.
Blinken also said the two sides had agreed to expand the terms of their joint defense treaty to cover space.
Austin is to meet with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada again on Thursday at the Pentagon; afterwards there will be a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.
While the total number of US troops in Japan will not change, the new deployments could be the first of several announcements this year about military forces in Asia aimed at making Beijing think twice before launching a conflict .
The deal follows nearly a year of negotiations and comes after Japan last month announced its biggest military build-up since World War II – a dramatic departure from seven decades of pacifism, fueled by concerns about Chinese actions in the region.
The five-year plan would double the country’s defense spending to 2% of its gross domestic product and see Japan acquire missiles that can hit ships or land-based targets 1,000 km (600 miles) away.
Asked about the Japanese reforms, Blinken said:
“It is very simple, we warmly welcome the new strategies, especially because there is … a remarkable convergence between our strategy and strategies and Japan’s.
“We welcome the commitment to increased investment, to enhanced roles, missions and capabilities … to 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 2,000-strong Marine Corps regiment that will focus on advanced intelligence, surveillance and transportation, US officials told Reuters. The move is expected to be completed in 2025.
The officials added that a separate US Army company of about 300 soldiers and 13 vessels would be deployed this spring to help transport US and Japanese troops and equipment, enabling rapid deployment of forces.
Japan has watched with growing concern China’s belligerence over Taiwan as Beijing seeks to assert its sovereignty claims over the island.
Austin noted increased Chinese military activities near the Taiwan Strait, but said he seriously doubted they were a sign of plans for an imminent invasion of the island by Beijing.
China staged military drills near Taiwan in August following a visit to Taipei by then-US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, including firing five missiles into the sea near Okinawa, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Japan hosts 18,000 US Marines, the largest concentration outside the US. Most of them are in Okinawan island bases, which are part of a chain that stretches along the edge of the East China Sea to within about 100 km (62 miles) of Taiwan.
The large US military presence has fueled local anger, and Okinawa’s government has asked other parts of Japan to host some of the force. In total, there are about 54,000 US troops in Japan.
Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, David Brunnstrom and Eric Beech; Editing by Don Durfee, Leslie Adler and Gerry Doyle
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.