The US wants to disperse US Marine units throughout Japan’s Okinawa islands by 2026, arming them with missiles and lighter gear to deter China’s military, and would discuss the plan with Tokyo in Washington, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
The US has already told Japan about the reorganization, which it would announce after a two-plus-two meeting in Washington today between the Japanese ministers of defense and foreign affairs and their US counterparts, the paper reported.
A Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official declined to comment about the report, but said Japan and the US “will discuss matters regarding issues on the US Forces Japan, including the realignment of the US Forces Japan.”
The creation of the new units, called Marine Littoral Regiments, is part of a major reorganization of the US Marine Corps outlined by its commandant, General David Berger, in 2020.
At the time Berger said that he wanted those units to work closely with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to prevent easy access to the Pacific for the Chinese military.
In response to a question about the possible deployment of the new units, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) told a regular news conference yesterday that bilateral military cooperation between the US and Japan “should not harm the interests of third parties, and regional peace and stability.”
Under the littoral regiment concept, the US Marines are cutting aircraft numbers, and dumping most of their cannon artillery and heavy armor in favor of smaller “dispersed” forces equipped with missiles and drones that can operate in contested areas.
Japan hosts 18,000 US Marines, the biggest concentration outside the US. Most of them are in bases in Okinawa, which is part of a chain that stretches along the edge of the East China Sea to within about 100km of Taiwan.
In related news, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday pledged more security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region as Kishida made his first visit to France since taking office.
Japan holds the presidency of the G7 and Kishida on Monday began a tour of fellow members France, Italy, the UK, Canada and the US.
In a joint statement with Macron on Monday evening, the Japanese prime minister said he was looking forward to more cooperation with France in the Asia-Pacific region.
“France is a leading partner for the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Kishida said.
“As unilateral attempts to change by force the status quo in the East and South China Sea intensify and the security environment becomes increasingly tense, we wish to continue to cooperate with France,” he said, alluding to joint military drills.
The Japanese government approved a major defense policy overhaul last month, including a significant spending hike, as it warned China posed the “greatest strategic challenge ever” to its security.
Macron said France and Japan would continue their “joint actions in the Indo-Pacific.”
Kishida is scheduled to meet US President Joe Biden on Friday.
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