British Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace on Sunday last week visited Tokyo to meet with Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi.
Wallace’s trip was far more than a simple courtesy call. The UK and Japan are clearly in the process of laying the foundations for an alliance, a development that would further complicate an already complex situation in the Indo-Pacific region.
On the surface, Wallace was laying the groundwork for an HMS Queen Elizabeth-led carrier strike group’s participation in a joint military drill with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Gulf of Aden in September.
More importantly though, his task was to demonstrate unity with Japan to resist China based on the two countries’ shared values and promote a military alliance between them. Why are the UK and Japan seeking to stand together and promote an alliance?
First, Beijing imposing a National Security Law on Hong Kong last year signaled the end of “one country, two systems” in the territory, rendering it impossible for the UK to deliver on promises it had made to Hong Kongers when it returned the territory to China in 1997.
China’s Coast Guard Law, which took effect earlier this year, allows its coast guard vessels to open fire on foreign ships, a move that threatens Japan’s interests.
The effect of these two pieces of legislation strengthened the resolve of the UK and Japan to unite to resist China.
Second, to maintain regional stability, and the two countries’ shared values of freedom, democracy and human rights, London and Tokyo believe that bolstering security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region conforms to their respective national interests.
The “wolf warrior” diplomacy Beijing has trained on the US, Canada, Australia, France and others has given the UK and Japan cause to stand by their allies. Since World War II, Japan and the UK have looked to the US for leadership in foreign relations and strategy, and when US President Joe Biden united other countries under the banner of resisting China, they had little choice but to follow.
Wallace and Kishi discussed the details of the British aircraft carrier strike group’s visit to Japan. To demonstrate strength toward China, it is important for the UK to send a sufficiently strong message. When not engaging in the joint military exercises, the British carrier would be docked at a US Navy base in Yokosuka, and the other British vessels would be docked at three ports nearby.
During their joint news conference, Wallace and Kishi revealed four points.
First, the UK would send warships to Japan every year, where they would participate in military drills under the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) comprising Japan, the US, Australia and India, in addition to other military exercises.
Second, the UK would station ground troops along coastal areas in Japan, where they would conduct joint drills with US and Japanese troops.
Third, the UK and Japan are in talks over bilateral long-term planning.
Fourth, the UK intends to commit more resources to its Indo-Pacific strategy.
This all suggests that the UK might enter into a security relationship with Japan in the coming years. More importantly, the UK could also become the first non-regional ally to join the Quad nations’ Indo-Pacific strategy.
The UK’s entry into a security alliance with Japan, and its participation in the Quad’s Indo-Pacific strategy, would pique the interest of France and Germany.
France has over the past several years sent more naval vessels into the Indo-Pacific region than previously, and this summer, the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle, together with landing helicopter dock amphibious assault ships, are to take part in joint military exercises led by the US and Japan in the waters off China.
Germany, in addition to having an intelligence-sharing and cooperation agreement with Japan, is also to send a warship to attend those joint military exercises.
These developments show that, with the US at the helm, maritime nations are officially planning a show of strength to curtail China’s regional ambitions, suggesting that clouds of war are gathering in the Indo-Pacific region.
Edward Chen is a chair professor in Chinese Culture University’s political science department.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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