U.S. to boost military capabilities in Japan and step up cooperation amid China worries

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (second from left) speaks during a news conference with Defense Minster Yasukazu Hamada (left), U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from right) and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday. | BLOOMBERG

Tokyo and Washington have agreed to enhance security coordination and beef up U.S. military capabilities in Japan’s southwestern islands near Taiwan following talks between the allies’ top diplomats and defense chiefs, setting the stage for a summit between the two countries’ leaders later this week.

Held only weeks after Tokyo unveiled a sweeping revamp of its defense and security policy, Wednesday’s “two-plus-two” meeting in Washington also saw the officials determine that an attack “to, from or within space” could trigger Article 5 of the allies’ mutual security pact.

Referring to China as posing the “greatest strategic challenge” in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and their U.S. counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, vowed to reinforce the alliance’s deterrence and response capabilities.

“Facing a severely contested environment … the forward posture of U.S. forces in Japan should be upgraded … by positioning more versatile, resilient, and mobile forces with increased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, anti-ship, and transportation capabilities,” the two sides said in a joint statement released after their talks.

Tokyo and Washington agreed to deploy a more agile and capable U.S. Marine unit to Okinawa, ramp up joint surveillance operations, expand the shared use of military facilities as well as increase bilateral exercises and training, including on and around Japan’s remote southwestern islands.

They also decided to deepen bilateral cooperation toward the “effective employment of Japan’s counterstrike capabilities in close coordination with the United States,” a reference to the long-range weapons Tokyo aims to acquire that would enable it to strike enemy bases in the event of an attack.

The allies also said they plan to expand coordination and interoperability, including in the cyber and space domains, and explore opportunities for technological cooperation, not only bilaterally but also with allies and partners.

They also spoke about joint research on technologies to counter hypersonic missiles, which have been developed by China and Russia, while also agreeing to begin discussions on the potential development of a future missile interceptor.
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