The US and Japan are set to announce a significant strengthening of their military relationship and upgrading of the US military’s force posture in the country this week, including the stationing of a newly redesignated Marine unit with advanced intelligence, surveillance capabilities and the ability to fire anti-ship missiles, according to two US officials briefed on the matter.

The announcement sends a strong signal to China and will come as part of a series of initiatives designed to underscore a rapid acceleration of security and intelligence ties between the countries.

The news is expected to be announced on Wednesday as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken meet with their Japanese counterparts in Washington. The officials are coming together as part of the annual US-Japan Security Consultative 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 is intended to bolster deterrence against Chinese aggression in a volatile region and provide a stand-in force that is able to defend Japan and quickly respond to contingencies, the officials said.

It is one of the most significant adjustments to US military force posture 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 region of the future in the Indo-Pacific. The 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 options.

It follows the stand-up of the first Marine Littoral Regiment in Hawaii last year, in which the 3rd Marine Regiment in Hawaii became the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment – a key part of the Marine Corps’ modernization effort outlined in the 2030 Force Design report from Gen. David Berger.

As the service has described them, the Marine Littoral Regiments are a “mobile, low-signature” unit able to conduct strikes, coordinate air and missile defense and support surface warfare.

The Washington Post first reported the soon-to-be-announced changes.

The announcement comes less than a month after Japan unveiled a new national security plan that signals the country’s biggest military buildup since World War II, doubling defense spending and veering from its pacifist constitution in the face of growing threats from regional rivals, including China.

China has been growing its naval and air forces in areas near Japan while claiming the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled chain in the East China Sea, as its sovereign territory.

In late December, Japan said Chinese government vessels had been spotted in the contiguous zone around the Senkakus, known as the Diaoyus in China, 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 vessels 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 been upping its military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island, whose security Japanese leaders have said 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 the visit of then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei.

Before the announcement was even made public, Chinese government officials were reacting to reports in Japanese media.

“US-Japan military cooperation should not harm the interests of any third party or undermine peace and stability in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing Tuesday in Beijing.

A State Department official explained that the Ukraine war and strengthening of the China-Russia relationship have spurred the US and Japan to come to a series of new agreements that have been under consideration for some time.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sort of moved things on warp drive a little bit,” the official said. “The relationship between Putin and Xi Jinping that we saw in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics, that kind of showed, wait a minute, the Russians and the Chinese are working in new ways. We’re facing new challenges.”

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By Richard

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