US Marines set up a unit in Okinawa to defend the remote Japanese island

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The United States will set up a Marine Corps rapid response unit in Okinawa to defend remote islands in southwestern Japan, Japanese-American diplomatic sources said Monday.

A Marine Littoral Regiment, or MLR, is said to be established within a few years as part of a regrouping of the Marine Corps in the South Island prefecture amid China’s intensification of military activity in the eastern China region, according to the sources. Sea.

The plan is expected to be discussed at a “two-plus-two” security meeting with foreign and defense ministers of Japan and the United States to be held in Washington on Wednesday, the sources said.

File photo taken in February 2020 shows members of the Ground Self-Defense Force participating in an exercise with the US military at the Blue Beach training area in Kin, Okinawa Prefecture. (TBEN)

During the talks, the two sides also plan to agree on including space in the scope of Article 5 of their bilateral security agreement, as Japan seeks to prevent attacks on its satellites while there is a growing need to use them for monitoring and gathering intelligence on other countries’ military movements, they said.

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Article 5 states that Washington will defend the territories under the administration of Tokyo against armed attacks.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday that Japan and the United States must ensure that their alliance “does not harm the interests of any third party or regional peace and stability.”

The spokesman expressed the hope that Tokyo and Washington will heed the concerns of the countries in the region and do more to increase mutual trust between the countries in the region.

However, the plans to set up a new unit in Okinawa could cause a backlash from the local population, as the island’s prefecture already bears the heavy burden of hosting about 70 percent of the total amount of land which is used exclusively for US military installations in Japan.

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The move comes as Tokyo and Washington have made efforts to bolster deterrence and response capabilities in southwestern Japan near Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island that Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunited by force if necessary. with the mainland.

File photo taken in February 2022 shows U.S. Marine Corps personnel training in the Northern Training Area in Okinawa Prefecture. (TBEN)

China has increased its military assertiveness in the South and East China Seas, with its coastguard ships repeatedly entering Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, a group of Tokyo-controlled uninhabited islets that China claims and calls Diaoyu.

US President Joe Biden has said the Senkakus are covered by Article 5.

Comprising approximately 1,800 to 2,000 personnel per unit, MLRs are capable of flexibly sending small groups of Marines to remote islands to gain a foothold to attack enemies and support U.S. or Allied warships.

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The new unit in Okinawa hopes to counter potential advances from the Chinese military.

In March, the US Indo-Pacific Command said it had established an MLR in Hawaii, the first of its kind in the Marine Corps. The Biden administration is also considering establishing another MLR in Guam by reforming two existing regiments in the prefecture, according to the sources.

The MLR deployment in Okinawa is unlikely to affect a current U.S. Marine Corps relocation plan, which would move about 9,000 personnel to Guam and Hawaii, among other places, while leaving some 10,000 in Okinawa, the sources said.

In its three key defense documents updated last month, the Japanese government pledged to strengthen Okinawa Self-Defense Forces units to defend the southwestern outlying islands, while calling China “the biggest strategic challenge.”