The US and Japanese militaries are increasing cooperation to prepare for a possible war with China over Taiwan or other areas in the Asia Pacific, the top US Marine Corps general in Japan told Financial Times.
Lt. Gen. James Bierman, commander of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) and of Marine Forces Japan, said the US military was preparing for a future conflict in the region the same way it did in Ukraine in 2014 following the US-backed ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
“Why have we achieved the level of success we’ve achieved in Ukraine? A big part of that has been because after Russian aggression in 2014 and 2015, we earnestly got after preparing for future conflict: training for the Ukrainians, prepositioning of supplies, identification of sites from which we could operate support, sustain operations,” Bierman said.
“We call that setting the theater. And we are setting the theater in Japan, in the Philippines, in other locations,” the general added.
Bierman’s comments came after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a major overhaul of the Japanese armed forces that involves doubling Tokyo’s military budget. A new security strategy issued by Kishida’s government names China “the biggest strategic challenge” and includes language that can justify military action in defense of the US, breaking from Japan’s post-World War II pacifism.
The Marines Corps has been undergoing an overhaul of its own as it is shifting its focus on preparing for war in the western Pacific rather than fighting counterinsurgencies in the Middle East. Bierman’s III MEF is at the center of the revamp, which is focused on creating smaller units that can move quickly around the islands of the western Pacific as the Marines operate within the range of China’s missiles.
Bierman said that cooperation with allies in the region is vital to the new Marine Corps strategy, and the Marines have been operating more closely with Japanese forces during drills. The US and Japan are set to discuss strengthening their alliance even more during a meeting of their defense ministers this week, and Kishida is set to meet with President Biden in Washington this Friday.
The US is also planning to build five new military facilities in the Philippines as part of its buildup around China, where it will be able to preposition more weapons and equipment. Bierman said the buildup in the Asia Pacific will give the US “a leverage point, a base of operations, which allows you to have a tremendous head start in different operational plans.”
Local officials in the Philippines said the US might return to Subic Bay, which was once the site of the largest US naval base in Asia that closed 30 years ago. But Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is also looking to maintain good relations with China and may not sign off on the establishment of a major US military base.