US military command in Japan to be revamped

The U.S. and Japan will unveil a plan next month to restructure the U.S. military command in the country in face of shared concerns about China, according to Reuters sources on Monday.

Washington may appoint a senior commander to oversee its units there, as a counterpart to the head of a proposed Japanese Self Defense Forces headquarters overseeing all of the country’s military operations.

That could be a four-star general – the highest peacetime rank in the U.S. military.

Right now, U.S. forces in Japan are led by a three-star general, who has no authority over local troops.

In neighbouring South Korea, local and U.S. forces can already operate under the unified command of a four-star officer.

On Monday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi would only say discussions were under way over how to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. and South Korea.

He said the agenda for an upcoming summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had not yet been set.

Earlier media reports had said the defense plans would be unveiled at the April meeting in Washington.

The U.S. has strongly endorsed a major defense buildup by Japan as military and security activity between the U.S. and its major Asian allies has ramped up.

More than a year ago, Japan pledged to double its defense spending to 2% of its gross domestic product and to procure longer-range missiles that can strike ships or land targets.

Tokyo recently called China’s rapidly expanding military power a “serious concern” for Japan and the international community.

Kishida wants a joint command headquarters to be set up by the end of March next year.