WASHINGTON — As their nations grapple with growing challenges from China, President Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan are meeting on Friday to discuss how to transform Japan into a military power and bolster the alliance between the two nations as the linchpin for maintaining their security interests in Asia.
Mr. Kishida is making his first trip to Washington since his election in October 2021 and one month after his government announced plans to strengthen its military capabilities and significantly increase military spending in the face of China’s rising power and repeated missile tests by North Korea.
Besides military issues, Mr. Biden, Mr. Kishida and their aides are expected to discuss the close economic ties between the two nations and the challenges in maintaining secure global supply chains, including in technology trade with China, the world’s second-largest economy, and in strengthening sanctions against Russia.
The summit follows a meeting on Wednesday between Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and their counterparts, Yoshimasa Hayashi and Yasukazu Hamada of Japan.
U.S. and Japanese officials said on Wednesday that the two nations would expand their military cooperation, including improving Japan’s missile strike abilities and making the U.S. Marine unit in that country more flexible for potential combat.
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The changes come as both countries perceive greater threatening behavior from China and North Korea, as well as Russia. Those three countries have decades-long partnerships that they have recently affirmed in various settings.
Under the new U.S. deployment arrangement in Japan, those who are serving in Okinawa as part of the 12th Marine Regiment, an artillery unit, will transform into a more mobile unit: the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment. The new configuration will allow them to more easily fan out to other islands along the coast when needed, U.S. officials said.
The littoral regiment will have battalion-size units, about 2,000 troops total, and have long-range fire abilities that can hit ships. Mr. Austin said the change would lead to a presence that is “more lethal, more agile, more capable.”
The agreement will not increase the number of Marines serving in Okinawa, officials said. But it will allow Marines to more quickly deploy if tensions intensify in the region. Pentagon officials said the restructuring is partly to deal with China’s growing military activity and presence, including around the island of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that the Chinese Communist Party intends to bring under its rule.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has made American, Taiwanese and Japanese officials more anxious about the possibility of China trying a move on Taiwan — perhaps not in the coming months or years, but possibly by the end of the decade. Much depends on how Chinese officials perceive the balance of military strength in the region, which includes American forces, U.S. officials say.
Japan is concerned about greater maritime activity by the Chinese military in the East China Sea and around the Senkaku Islands, which is disputed territory between the two governments.
The Biden administration has been working closely with the Japanese government on a range of other security issues in Asia, including North Korea’s ballistic missile testing and its nuclear program. U.S. officials have sought to bolster cooperation with Japan and South Korea over the threats from Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, as well as the aggressive behavior of China in the region.
Japan is an important member of the Quad coalition, which includes the United States, India and Australia. It has also cooperated with the United States on sanctions on export controls on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine in February.