US and Japan to strengthen military ties as they eye China

Reports suggest US operations in East Asia are set to be seriously upgraded.

A US troop during military drill exercises in in Gotemba, Japan
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force member takes position during a joint military drill with US Marines [Eugene Hoshiko/AP]

Japan and the United States are in talks to boost military cooperation as they eye a growing threat from China.

The two countries are discussing increased integration and cooperation, Japan’s government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Monday. Reports suggest that US operations in the country will be seriously upgraded as Washington looks to counter any potential threat from China.

“Japan and the United States have been discussing ways to strengthen cooperation in command and control in order to enhance interoperability and readiness,” Hayashi told reporters.

US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will unveil a plan in April to restructure the US military command’s East Asia command structure, the Reuters news agency reports.

The agenda for the summit has not yet been decided, Hayashi added.

“My understanding is that nothing has been decided regarding the American side’s structure, including strengthening the functions of US Forces Japan,” he said.

The Financial Times reported that “the Pentagon is some way from making any decision”, but that both Japan and the United States were eager to boost ties “to respond to what they view as a growing threat from China”.

It called the plans “the biggest upgrade to [the US-Japan] security alliance since they signed a mutual defence treaty in 1960”.

Washington will consider appointing a four-star commander to oversee its forces in Japan as a counterpart to the head of a proposed Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) headquarters overseeing all of the country’s military operations, Reuters reported, quoting unnamed sources.

Details of the security plan are due to be announced at the White House on April 10, when Biden and Kishida meet.

A first three-way summit between Japan, the United States, and the Philippines will take place the following day. The US has been seeking to deepen ties with Manila as it has seen tensions with China rise in the South China Sea.

‘Shared strategic challenge’

Japan is a close ally and a key component of the US strategy towards China, North Korea and other Asian security issues.

Like most countries, Japan does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but Tokyo angered China earlier this year by congratulating Taiwan’s president-elect, William Lai Ching-te. China claims the strategic island as its own.

Tokyo has said it has “serious concern” over China’s growing military power and the threat it poses to Taiwan, which sits just 100km (62 miles) from Japanese territory.

Last year, Tokyo announced plans for its biggest military build-up since World War II, pledging to double defence spending to 2 percent of its GDP.

It also promised to procure missiles that can strike ships or land-based targets 1,000km (621 miles) away, stockpile spare parts and other munitions, expand transport capacity, and develop cyber warfare capabilities.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last year after a meeting of Japanese and American defence and foreign ministers in Washington that “[China] is the greatest shared strategic challenge that we and our allies and partners face”.

There are 54,000 US military personnel based in Japan – the highest number stationed anywhere overseas.

Japanese newspaper Yomiuri, reporting about the potential upgraded alliance, said Japan currently has to deal with the Hawaii-based US Indo-Pacific Command for various decisions.

Source: News Agencies