Japan and UK Move Closer

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in London. (David Oliver)
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in London. (David Oliver)

Fumio Kishida was elected as Japan’s prime minister in October 2021. He was expected to support a strong alliance with the United States and other allies, and face the key challenge of balancing Japan’s deep economic ties with China and its concerns about Beijing’s growing military assertiveness in the region.

This was reflected by Japan’s defence budget for FY2022, which was approved by Kishida’s government in March 2022, the amount of which was $51 billion (5,866.1 billion yen), its largest ever.

In the following weeks prime minister Kishida embarked on a series of overseas visits which included the United Kingdom. Both prime ministers Boris Johnson and Fumio Kishida warned that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia could be replicated in East Asia if democratic powers do not stand up to autocratic ones.

“Ukraine may be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida said on 5 May during a visit to London, as he called for Indo-Pacific leaders to recognise that the invasion of Ukraine was not just a European problem. At a press conference attended by AMR, when asked about the implications for Taiwan, he said: “We must collaborate with our allies and like-minded countries, and never tolerate a unilateral attempt to change the status quo by the use of force in the Indo-Pacific, especially in East Asia.”

He added: “Russia’s egregious aggression against Ukraine is a clear violation of international law, which prohibits the use of force against a nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Democracies do not fight each other.”

During the visit, a Reciprocal Access Agreement was confirmed which will see Japanese and British forces exercising and operating together, claimed by Downing Street as the first agreement of its kind between Japan and a European country.

There was also discussion over the UK’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and the future Japanese F-X fighter programme. Industrial cooperation particularly over such new defence and security technology projects could be the foundation for closer collaboration.

In the Japanese Ministry of Defence publication, Defence of Japan published in 2021, closer ties were called for not only with the United States and Australia but also with European countries including the UK. It also revealed that it had held cyber dialogues with the respective defense authorities of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, among others.

The UK and Japan two have signed a mutual access agreement for their two forces, in part dedicated to keep the seas free and open. Kishida also announced new sanctions, including an asset freeze on 140 Russian individuals and the expansion of an export ban on 70 Russian military companies..

Kishida’s visit to London was the conclusion of a major trip that saw him visit ASEAN members Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. Japan is chair of the G7 next year and Kishida is trying to rally east Asia into accepting that Russia’s actions, born of authoritarianism, represent a threat to stability, and that, by extension, the region may have to resist China.

Kishida said that many countries in the region would still prefer not to take sides in a contest between China and the US.

by David Oliver