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The US military is deepening ties with Japan and the Philippines to prepare for China’s threat

The US and Japanese armed forces are rapidly integrating their command structure and increasing joint operations as Washington and its Asian allies prepare for a possible conflict with China, such as a war over Taiwan, Japan’s top Marine Corps general said.

The two armies “saw an exponential increase . . . slightly more than last year” in their operations in the territory they would have to defend in the event of war, Lt. Gen. James Bierman, commander of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) and Naval Forces Japan, told the Financial Times. in an interview.

Birman said the US and its allies in Asia are emulating the basis that allowed Western countries to support Ukraine’s resistance to Russia in preparation for scenarios such as a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“Why did we achieve the level of success we achieved in Ukraine?” “A big part of that is because after the Russian aggression in 2014 and 2015, we seriously gained after preparing for a future conflict: training the Ukrainians, pre-positioning supplies, identifying locations from which we could provide support, sustain operations,” he said.

“We call that setting a theater. And we’re setting up theater in Japan, in the Philippines, in other locations.”

Birman’s unusually blunt comparison between the war in Ukraine and a potential conflict with China comes as Beijing has dramatically increased the scale and sophistication of its military maneuvers near Taiwan in recent years. Japan and the Philippines are also intensifying defense cooperation with the US in the face of growing Chinese assertiveness.

Lt. Gen. James Bierman speaks to troops in Okinawa
Lt. Gen. James Bierman warned that “the Chinese adversary . . . will possess a starter gun and will have the ability to potentially initiate hostilities’ © Kiodo News/Getty Images

Japan and the US are set to discuss strengthening their alliance at security talks between the foreign and defense ministers on Wednesday and at a summit between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumi Kishida in Washington on Friday. The summit comes as Tokyo embarks on a radical shift in security policy that will include increased defense spending and the deployment of missiles capable of hitting Chinese territory.

III MEF is the only Marine crisis response force permanently stationed outside the US. It operates within range of China’s medium- and long-range missiles, which Beijing seeks to use to limit US operational freedom in the region.

The unit is at the heart of a sweeping reform of the Marine Corps that aims to replace its focus on counterinsurgency in the Middle East with the creation of small units that specialize in swift and covert operations in the islands and straits of East Asia and the Western Pacific to counter Beijing’s “counter denying access to the area”.

Closer integration with allies is vital for the realization of that strategy, Birman said. In a series of recent exercises, the Marines established bilateral ground tactical coordination centers for the first time instead of exchanging communications with allied command posts.

In another sign of deepening cooperation, certain Japanese military units were designated as part of the “ready force” along with III MEF and US Navy and Air Force units.

Instead of a “rotation” of Japanese military units working with American counterparts, as in the past, a “permanent community of interest” of allied units responsible for operational plans is emerging, Bierman added.

He said that while the US military is paying attention to China’s aggressive behavior over Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army should not be seen as “10 feet tall”.

“When you talk about the complexity, the size of some of the operations that they would have to perform, let’s say [in] The invasion of Taiwan, there will be indications and warnings, and there are specific aspects in terms of geography and timing, which allow us to hold our ground and be the most prepared,” he said.

As part of those preparations, the Philippines plans to allow US forces to station weapons and other supplies at five more bases, in addition to the five the US already has access to.

“You get a point of leverage, a base of operations, that allows you to have a tremendous advantage in different operational plans,” Bierman said. “As we go up against a Chinese adversary, who will have a starting gun and potentially have the ability to initiate hostilities.” . . we can identify decisive key terrain that must be held, secured, defended, exploited.”

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