Sat, Aug 04, 2018 - Page 6 News List

British warship docks in Tokyo for tours, training

Reuters, TOKYO

Members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ marching band perform as the British Royal Navy’s HMS Albion amphibious assault ship arrives in Tokyo yesterday.

Photo: AP

The British Royal Navy’s flagship amphibious assault ship, the HMS Albion, yesterday arrived in Tokyo, extending Britain’s naval presence in East Asia to four months as London deepens military ties in a region it considers vital to global security and economic prosperity as it exits the EU.

The 22,000-tonne warship, the largest Royal Navy vessel to visit Japan in 26 years, docked in Tokyo, where it is to conduct ship tours for the general public, Japanese officials and defense industry executives.

An onboard contingent of about 120 British Royal Marines is to train with Japanese Self-Defense Forces troops, including joint landings with new Japanese marine units on a beach near Mount Fuji.

“Our visit here is a testament to the global reach of the navy, a very global Britain and, of course, is aimed at building at our bonds with Japan,” Captain Tim Neild, the Albion’s commander, said at a briefing after his ship docked at a wharf surrounded by construction cranes building the athletes’ village for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

As Asia drives global economic growth and Brexit approaches, Britain has sought closer economic ties with the region’s biggest economy, China, but also deeper security ties with Japan.

With its ally the US, Japan represents the strongest check on China’s influence in the region, including Beijing’s growing control over the contested South China Sea through the construction of island bases on submerged reefs.

Japan wants to cooperate more with other potential allies beyond the US as part of a bigger regional security role as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government steps back from a post-World War II pacifist constitution that has barred the use of military force overseas.

London and Tokyo have been holding regular meetings between their foreign and defense ministers since 2015, and are also discussing cooperation to jointly develop new military equipment.

At a media briefing before the Albion’s visit to Tokyo, British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden said the backdrop to growing cooperation was “the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, as well as wider challenges to the rules-based international system.”

The Albion was earlier docked at nearby Yokosuka, Japan, which is home to the USS Ronald Reagan, the US Seventh Fleet’s aircraft carrier, and has patrolled waters around North Korea as part of operations to enforce UN sanctions meant to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

The Albion, which replaced the British frigate HMS Sutherland, is to hand over operations to the HMS Argyll, another frigate, when it leaves East Asia at about the start of next month for naval exercises in the Middle East.

Its journey west would take it through the South China Sea, a major waterway for seaborne global trade that is claimed by China, as well as Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The US has challenged Beijing’s control there by sending warships close to Beijing’s island bases through seas it has said must remain open to international traffic.

“The United Kingdom subscribes to the rules-based system, as does Japan and many other countries, and we are committed to upholding that system wherever we operate on the high seas,” Neild said, when asked about China’s maritime activities in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

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