The US deploys a mobile naval unit on the Japanese island of Okinawa – H Talk Asia

The United States and Japan have agreed to further strengthen their military alliance with a plan to deploy a new naval unit to an island chain near Taiwan amid increasing strategic challenges from China.

Senior foreign and defense officials from both countries held an unprecedented meeting of the US-Japan Security Advisory Committee titled 2+2 on Wednesday, which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as “another step in cementing the already incredibly strong ties” between the two countries .

The two sides announced a plan to update the military alliance, including deploying a new mobile naval unit to Japan’s southern island of Okinawa.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told a joint news conference that the new Marine Littoral Regiment, redesignated from an artillery regiment, would be “more deadly, more agile, more capable” and “would strengthen deterrence in the region and allow us Japan and.” defend its population more effectively.”

Okinawa, part of the Ryuku (Nansei) Islands, is just 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Taiwan, the democratic, self-governing island that China is promising to reunite with the mainland.

The presence of the new naval forces on Okinawa will send a clear chilling message to Beijing, which Blinken says is “the single greatest strategic challenge we and our allies and partners face.”

The US and Japan also said they would expand their security agreement to include “attacks in, from or within space” amid concerns about the rapid development of China’s space program.

Such attacks “pose a clear challenge to the security of the Alliance” and could invoke Article Five of the US-Japan Mutual Defense Agreement.

Austin is meeting separately with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada at the Pentagon on Thursday ahead of a summit between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (CR) and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (R) hold a news conference with Japan’s Secretary of State Yoshimasa Hayashi (CL) and Secretary of Defense Yasukazu Hamada (L) in Washington January 11, 2023. Photo credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Strategy change and alliance

Washington has strongly backed Tokyo’s recent military buildup, the largest since World War II and a notable departure from Japan’s post-war pacification.

Last month, Japan announced a five-year plan to double its defense budget to 2% of the country’s gross domestic product and focus on acquiring counterattack capabilities.

Tokyo also released a series of new national security strategies, calling China an “unprecedented strategic challenge”.

“We welcome the commitment to increase investments, expand roles, missions and capabilities… and work more closely together, not only between the United States and Japan, but also with other allies and other partners,” said Antony Blinken.

He said there was “a remarkable convergence between our strategy – our strategies – and that of Japan”.

This week’s events mark “a significant shift in the US-Japan alliance,” wrote analysts Zac Cooper and Eric Sayer in an op-ed in War On The Rocks, a defense and security portal.

“For the first time in decades, Tokyo and Washington are preparing in earnest for the possibility of a major conflict in the near future,” they said, noting that “the US-Japan alliance is moving to a war base.”

Japan’s fears of a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan have provided the context for this shift, as “Tokyo’s priority is to contain China, as evidenced by the concept of the free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Jeff Kingston, a professor at Temple University in Tokyo .

The parallels between Putin and Ukraine and Xi and Taiwan could have helped create a favorable environment for expanding defense capabilities and reducing security restrictions, but “a public backlash is likely when the law is presented to him,” Kingston said .

“I think the increase in the defense budget will come back to Kishida with no firm plan for its funding and ill-considered plans for spending squandering,” he said.

China’s reaction

When asked about the new effort to strengthen the US-Japan military alliance, a Chinese spokesman said military cooperation between the two countries “must not harm the interests of third parties or undermine regional peace and stability.”

Meanwhile, a newspaper close to the Communist Party, the Global Times, published an op-ed criticizing the US and Japan for “continuing to undermine regional peace and stability in 2023.”

The newspaper quoted Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, as saying that “the supposedly closer US-Japan alliance actually puts Japan in a riskier and more self-sacrificing position.”

Washington is the final stop on Prime Minister Kishida’s week-long diplomatic tour, which also took him to France, Italy, Britain and Canada.

On Wednesday, Kishida and his British counterpart Rishi Sunak signed a landmark defense pact that allowed them to deploy their armed forces in each other’s countries.