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.”
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The agreement will not increase the number of Marines serving in Okinawa, officials said. But it will allow Marines to deploy faster if tensions intensify. 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.
Last month, the Kishida administration released a new national security strategy in which Japan committed to spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its annual defense budget, a substantial increase.
Although it was the longstanding goal of the slain former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to revise the pacifist clause in Japan’s postwar constitution to reflect the country’s ambitions to change its military posture, Mr. Abe was killed before any revisions went through. But in 2015, he had pushed through legislation to authorize overseas combat missions for Japan’s military. As the current government has moved to expand military spending and acquire new equipment, the public — once staunchly opposed to any move that suggested Japan was abandoning its pacifist status — has been largely supportive.
Russia’s 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.