In countering China, U.S. sees a growing role for Japan

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OKINAWA, Japan — The United States’ confederation pinch Japan is evolving to antagonistic an progressively “untethered” China, Washington’s envoy to Tokyo told NBC News successful an exclusive question and reply this week.

“They person been much aggressive, arsenic we person from purely a strategical standpoint of putting our roots down moreover deeper successful nan area astatine nan behest of location allies,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel told NBC News successful Tokyo connected Thursday, referring to Beijing.

The U.S.-Japan narration “is evolving from 1 that was ever focused connected confederation protection” to 1 focused connected “alliance projection,” Emanuel said. That intends asserting U.S. and Japanese power astir nan Asia-Pacific region, including done broader partnerships specified arsenic Washington’s AUKUS information alliance pinch Australia and Britain and nan Quad, a information grouping made up of nan U.S., Australia, India and Japan.

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NBC News said to Emanuel arsenic U.S. and Japanese forces participated successful associated drills known arsenic “Iron Fist,” which person taken spot annually since 2006 and moved to Japan from California past year. They underscore nan urgency pinch which Washington is shoring up information partnerships successful nan Asia-Pacific region, wherever China, Russia and North Korea airs increasing threats.

The Biden management is counting connected Japan, a U.S. state since nan extremity of World War II, to sharpen its location defense posture, peculiarly arsenic China builds its subject power.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel successful Tokyo connected Thursday.U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel successful Tokyo connected Thursday.Janis Mackey Frayer / NBC News

“In nan region, nan United States and Japan are agreed — politically, diplomatically, economically, strategically — because they are an effective deterrent against an untethered China,” Emanuel said. That deterrence is effective, he said, because it underscores “that we’re nan imperishable Pacific powerfulness — you tin stake agelong connected America.”

On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Hajime Kitajima, commandant of nan Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, said nan state was “facing nan astir terrible information situation since nan extremity of World War II.”

Speaking astatine a news convention successful Okinawa, Kitajima cited Russia’s 2022 penetration of Ukraine, saying 1 of nan awesome lessons from nan conflict was that “there are existent states that will invade different state if they are perceived arsenic not having capable spot to take sides itself.”

Emanuel said different Asia-Pacific countries pinch worries astir China were reassured by nan U.S.-Japan alliance. Japan hosts much U.S. troops — astir 54,000 — than immoderate different state successful nan world. Roughly half of them are successful Okinawa, nan southernmost prefecture of Japan.

Earlier this week, an amphibious conveyance roared onto an Okinawa formation pinch a deafening sound, its monolithic propellers whirring furiously.

As its aerial cushion deflated, nan conveyance slumped to nan crushed connected a mini agelong of formation connected Okinawa’s main island.

A ramp came down to let ray armored vehicles onto nan beach, on pinch U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy sailors and members of nan Japan Self-Defense Forces, each participating successful a associated subject workout meant to simulate nan retaking of an island.

Troops group up sensors on nan formation that tin observe divers, mini boats — aliases thing larger — and past walk that accusation connected to U.S. and Japanese ships.

“This strategy tin spot up to 100 nautical miles,” Lance Cpl. Aidan Henson of nan 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit said arsenic he pointed astatine a computer.

The three-week U.S.-Japan subject exercises, which return spot each complete Japan and tally until Sunday, are not explicitly aimed astatine immoderate peculiar country. But some countries are progressively concerned astir imaginable conflict pinch China, whether complete its subject activities successful nan South China Sea aliases its designs connected the self-ruling land populist of Taiwan.

In a motion of nan value of nan U.S.-Japan relationship, President Joe Biden has invited Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Washington for a authorities sojourn adjacent month. While there, nan Japanese leader will besides reside a associated convention of Congress.

China is acold from nan only information interest for Japan, wherever Okinawa residents are sometimes urged to return shelter during North Korean rocket tests. The isolated communist state has accelerated weapons testing successful caller years successful what analysts opportunity is an effort to unit nan world into accepting it arsenic a atomic power.

Under a caller information strategy adopted successful 2022, Japan has moved to bolster its subject powerfulness successful a awesome displacement distant from nan self-defense-only rule that has guided nan state since nan extremity of World War II.

In December, Japan’s Cabinet approved a grounds $56 cardinal defense fund for fiscal 2024, portion of a five-year programme to build up nan military. It besides eased a postwar prohibition connected nan export of lethal weapons, starting pinch nan shipment of Japanese-produced Patriot guided missiles to nan United States to thief boost an inventory depleted by U.S. support for Ukraine.

“They’ve acquired counterstrike capability, things that everybody thought were third-rail politics,” Emanuel said.

In different large step, Japan has improved ties pinch historical rival South Korea, pinch Biden hosting Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for a historical trilateral summit astatine Camp David past August.

“The trilateral betwixt nan United States, Japan and Korea is deterrence,” Emanuel said. “Increased economical waste and acquisition is deterrence. Political alliances, negotiated alliances is deterrence. So we don’t limit it to nan military.”

Janis Mackey Frayer and Arata Yamamoto reported from Okinawa, Japan, and Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong.

Janis Mackey Frayer

Janis Mackey Frayer is simply a Beijing-based analogous for NBC News.

Arata Yamamoto

Arata Yamamoto has been a NBC News shaper successful Tokyo since 1993.

Jennifer Jett

Jennifer Jett is nan Asia Digital Editor for NBC News, based successful Hong Kong.