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Indo-Pacific

U.S., Japan to develop counter-hypersonic capabilities: 2-plus-2

Allies will strengthen Tokyo's defense force 'posture' in islands near Taiwan

An American sailor operates a radar systems controller on the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh during air defense exercises with Japan in the Philippine Sea in 2020. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

NEW YORK -- The U.S. and Japan will bring together scientists and engineers to collaborate on emerging defense technologies, including ways to counter hypersonic missiles, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

Blinken spoke at the opening session of the virtual "two-plus-two" talks, which was attended by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi. The newly confirmed U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, joined in the meeting.

"When Japanese and American researchers bring their complementary strengths to bear, we can outcompete and out-innovate anyone," he said. The joint research will also include space-based capabilities, he noted.

Austin said the discussions will include "evolving our roles and missions to reflect Japan's growing ability to contribute to regional peace and stability."

He also said the two sides will be "optimizing our alliance force posture to strengthen deterrence."

A screenshot of the U.S.-Japan two-plus-two meeting on Jan. 6.

Hayashi said: "The international community is faced with fundamental and multifaceted challenges, such as the change in the strategic balance, unilateral and coercive attempts to change the status quo, abusive use of unfair pressure, and expanding authoritarian regimes."

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the allies committed to increasing joint or shared use of U.S. and Japanese facilities, "including efforts to strengthen Japan Self-Defense Forces' posture in areas including its southwestern islands."

Known as the Nansei Islands, the island chain stretches from the southernmost tip of Kyushu to the north of Taiwan. The westernmost Yonaguni Island lies 108 km from the east coast of Taiwan.

On Taiwan, the two-plus-two joint statement echoed the words of the U.S.-Japan joint leaders' statement from April 2021, saying they "underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues."

In stronger language than before, Japan reiterated its resolve to "fundamentally reinforce" its defense capabilities to bolster national defense and contribute to regional peace and stability, the statement said.

The two-plus-two comes at a time when Chinese military advances have caught the allies off-guard. Last summer, China is thought to have tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that circled the globe before speeding toward its target. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, called it a "very significant event" and "very close" to a Sputnik moment -- the old Soviet Union's launch of the world's first artificial satellite in 1957, a feat that shocked the Western world.

It also comes as the U.S. increasingly worries about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. How it cooperates with Japan, its geographically closest ally to the island, is integral to any defense planning. Yet Japan has not engaged in combat since World War II and is restrained by its pacifist constitution.

Blinken noted that Japan was the first foreign country he and Austin visited after assuming their posts. "So it feels fitting to me to start this year, 2022, by meeting again with our Japanese colleagues," he said.

Blinken also said that the two sides will be signing a new five-year framework for host-nation support -- Japan's financial aid for stationing U.S. forces in the country.

Japan said in December that it would increase host-nation support to 1.05 trillion yen ($9 billion) over five years -- around $130 million more per year than it spent in the previous five years. But Tokyo had asked Washington to allocate the increased funding to joint exercises and efforts to directly strengthen the alliance, as opposed to using the money for utility fees and local-worker wages as in the past.

The new framework will "invest greater resources to deepen our military readiness and interoperability," Blinken said.

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