Under the new U.S. deployment arrangement in Japan, Marines 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 the need arises, U.S. officials said.
The littoral regiment will have battalion-size units, about 2,000 troops total, and have long-range fire capabilities that can hit ships. Mr. Austin said the change will 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 in part 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 maybe 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.
In August, China alarmed Japan when it fired ballistic missiles in the waters around Taiwan to send a message of aggression to the island and to the United States after Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited in a show of support. Five of the missiles landed in the exclusive economic zone off Japan’s coast, the first such occurrence.
Japanese officials have also been disquieted by a series of joint military exercises conducted by China and Russia in the region. The two nations held one such exercise in May, the first one they had done together since Russia invaded Ukraine. Mr. Biden was visiting Tokyo at the time for a meeting of the Quad, a coalition of the United States, Japan, India and Australia that was formed in part to counter China’s growing power.
China and Japan have not resolved territorial disputes over waters and islands in the East China Sea. The Japanese and American militaries have noted increased Chinese maritime activity in the area, U.S. officials said.