Boris Johnson and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, signed a “landmark” defence partnership today, as Japan’s premier embarked on his first trip to London since taking office in October.
The reciprocal access agreement (RAA) – the first pact of its kind that Tokyo has signed with any European country – will see British and Japanese Armed Forces deploy together to carry out training, joint exercises and disaster relief activities.
The meeting at Downing Street was also an opportunity for the two prime ministers to discuss ways to exert pressure on Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine. Following the talks, Kishida – who has already taken a tough stance on Moscow – announced a further set of sanctions, including freezing the assets of 140 more Russian nationals and expanding Tokyo’s export ban to include Russian military firms.
Aside from defence talk, the two leaders also met in a bid to bolster their trade partnership. Kishida and Johnson tucked into some food from Fukushima, including popcorn, to mark the lifting of restrictions on food products from the Japanese region following the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The friendly meeting is evidence of Britain’s post-Brexit “Indo-Pacific tilt”. Last year, the UK government published its defence and foreign policy integrated review in which it pledged to boost alliances with countries in the Indo-Pacific region, such as India, Japan and Australia, describing the region as “increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world”.
Japan, a member of the G7, has a long-held pacifist and anti-militaristic stance. Since the tragedies of the Second World War, its defence capability has been geared towards “defensive” rather than “offensive” operations, and for decades, it has spent just one per cent of its GDP on defence.
But in the face of Chinese expansionism and a volatile nuclear-armed North Korea, Tokyo is increasingly vulnerable.
While China has increased its defence spending by a staggering 620 per cent since 1990, Japan has generally resisted Washington’s pleas to follow suit.
Yet although Japan may not be about to shed all its pacifist inclinations or radically change the “self-defence” character of its constitution, its policy is certainly shifting. Tokyo is showing an increasing readiness to branch out with new security pacts and to co-operate on global security.
Alongside the US, Australia and India, Japan is an active member of the “Quad” – an Indo-Pacific group aimed at pushing back against China. In January, Japan signed another bilateral pact – a “Reciprocal Access Agreement” – with Australia.
As today’s landmark meeting in London illustrated, Britain is the latest beneficiary of Japan’s growing desire to move away from its pacificism, and towards building new defensive alliances in an increasingly unstable world.
The possibility of the moderate, recognisably Republican Haley running as an independent candidate is intriguing.