WASHINGTON, D.C.: The top national security officials from Japan and the United States unveiled plans on Wednesday to strengthen their alliance to help counter threats from North Korea and China, which they called the greatest challenge in the region.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the agreement reflected the two nations’ effort to deepen cooperation “across all realms,” including space, cybersecurity and emerging technologies.
“It is hard to overstate the importance of the US-Japan alliance for more than seven decades,” said Blinken, following the meeting at the State Department. “It’s been the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, ensuring the security, liberty and prosperity of our people and people across the region.”
The two nations are revising their joint defense posture and planning increased military exercises as they confront rising North Korean threats and China’s increasing aggressiveness.
The US and Japanese foreign and defense ministers agreed to adjust the American troop presence on the island of Okinawa. Prior to the meeting, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced it was ready to start construction on an uninhabited island where the two militaries would hold joint military exercises.
Wednesday’s discussions will be followed by a meeting on Friday between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, during which they will underscore the importance of the relationship.
Kishida, who is on a weeklong trip to visit allies in Europe and North America, signed a defense agreement with United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday that strengthens military ties between their two counties, also in response to China’s increasing military assertiveness.
Following their talks, Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Japanese counterparts, Yoshimasa Hayashi and Yasukazu Hamada, planned to issue a joint statement that will adjust, but not increase, the American troop presence on Okinawa.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, all four condemned China’s increasing aggression in the region and said the agreement would provide a strong path to counter that.
Austin noted that the agreement affirms America’s “ironclad commitment to defend Japan with a full range of capabilities, including nuclear” and underscores that Article 5 of the mutual security treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands. The disputed islands outside Japanese territorial waters are also claimed by Beijing.
The statement also adds a formal mention of space in the longstanding security treaty, making clear that “attacks to, from and within space” could trigger the mutual defense provisions of the treaty, an administration fact sheet said. That had previously been outside the scope of the agreement.
Earlier on Wednesday, Japan said it would soon begin constructing a pair of runways on the small southern island of Mageshima where the two militaries are to conduct joint exercises, including those of F-35B stealth fighters, amphibious operations and missile interception beginning around 2027.
The construction could start as early as Thursday, it said. The island, off the southwestern coast of Kagoshima on the southernmost main island of Kyushu, will be a hub for troop deployment and munition supply in case of a conflict, like a Taiwan emergency.
Japan and the US are moving one of their key flight exercise sites to the southern island, which is much closer to the US air base of Iwakuni, home to an F-35B fleet, than the current training site on Iwo Jima, where one of the bloodiest and most iconic battles of World War 2 was fought.
The changes in the deployment on Okinawa will transform the 12th Marine Regiment into a smaller, more rapidly mobile unit — the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, which will be designed to be better equipped to fight an adversary and defend the US and its allies in the region, US officials said.
Austin said the regiment would bring “tremendous” capabilities to the region as a “more lethal, more agile, more capable” military unit.
The officials said the decision would not increase the number of Marines on the island and does not come with any significant change in weapons capability.
Reinforcement of military capability or troops is a sensitive issue for Okinawa, site of one of the bloodiest ground battles at the end of World War 2. The island hosts more than half of the US troops based in Japan, and Okinawans want that number reduced.