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UK and Japan Considering a Military Alliance Apparently Directed at Countering Beijing

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: October 2, 2021
The UK and Japan are seeking to strengthen military ties through the Reciprocal Access Agreement.
The UK and Japan are seeking to strengthen military ties through the Reciprocal Access Agreement. (Image: 12019 via Pixabay)

The governments of Japan and the United Kingdom have begun negotiating the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) to deepen defense ties between the two global powers. Once concluded, the agreement will allow both nations and their militaries to address “global security challenges and counter shared threats,” the UK Ministry of Defense said.

The RAA will outline terms and conditions under which Japanese and British military personnel can perform activities in each other’s nations. Bilateral activities like joint exercises and training will become “easier and quicker to facilitate.”

“Japan is Britain’s close security partner in Asia, with shared values and common strategic interests. This sends a clear signal about our determination to deepen bilateral defense cooperation, and the UK’s commitment to the Indo Pacific region,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also stated that deepening defense ties with Japan is a critical part of ensuring an open and secure Indo-Pacific. A Strong security and economic partnership with Tokyo is important for Britain’s long-term interests, she added.

Experts believe that the mention of “shared threats” by the UK Defense Ministry refers to the Chinese regime. Closer cooperation with Japan plays into the UK’s strategic shift to focus on the Indo-Pacific, as outlined in the country’s Integrated Review published in March.

“The Government of Japan and the Government of the UK will work on the negotiations in order to realize the early conclusion. The first round of negotiations will take place on October 7,” said a statement from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

UK-Japan RAA negotiations come on the heels of London’s recent submarine partnership deal with the United States and Australia. The move is seen as a step towards better containing Chinese aggression.

Back in July, Wallace had announced that both the UK and Japan would “protect and uphold the rules-based international order.” Wallace and his Japanese counterpart, Nobuo Kishi, agreed to discuss possibly collaborating on Tokyo’s next-generation FX fighter, specifically its engine systems and subsystems.

In September, British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth made its first port call in Japan. Kishi met with the strike group’s commander. HMS Queen Elizabeth had participated in joint exercises with warships from Japan, Canada, United States, and the Netherlands before arriving at the Japanese port of Yokosuka near Tokyo.

“European countries’ interest in (China’s) unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas … contributes to the peace and stability in this region… I expect the port call will contribute to a further development of Japan-British defense cooperation,” Kishi said to reporters.

Another British ship, HMS Richmond, a Type 23 frigate that arrived in the Indo Pacific together with HMS Queen Elizabeth, recently passed through the Taiwan Strait, a narrow waterway separating China from the island nation.

“After a busy period working with partners and allies in the East China Sea, we are now en route through the Taiwan Strait to visit #Vietnam and the Vietnam People’s Navy,” a Sept. 26 tweet from the official account of HMS Richmond stated.

China claims Taiwan to be its territory. As such, Chinese authorities did not respond well to HMS Richmond sailing through the Taiwan Strait. Senior Colonel Shi Yi, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theatre Command that oversees the Taiwan Strait, called the incident a “publicity stunt.” He said that the ship’s passage was performed with “bad intentions” to undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

In an interview with SCMP, Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said that HMS Richmond’s transit showed that the UK wanted to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The Royal Navy plans to send more fleets to the Asia-Pacific to meet London’s ambitions to resume Britain’s influence in the region… London realized that the US so far doesn’t have enough warships to take care of the Far East area, so it’s a good opportunity for the Royal Navy to share the responsibility with the US’ allies like Japan [and] Australia in the region to contain a rising PLA Navy,” Zhou said.