Rishi Sunak signed a major new defence pact with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, today as he kickstarted his four day trip to Hiroshima – a visit full of firsts.
This is Sunak’s first G7 Summit, his first foreign trip as leader accompanied by his wife, and it’s also the first time a British prime minister has visited the site of the Second World War atomic bombing.
Downing Street said the historic moment would serve as “a sombre reminder of the human cost of all-out war” – fitting, too, given that war in Ukraine and Chinese aggression in Taiwan form a crucial backdrop to the summit.
Ahead of the G7 talks which don’t kick off properly until tomorrow, Sunak dined with Kishida and signed a new agreement called the “Hiroshima Accord”, aimed at bolstering ties with Tokyo in areas of defence, trade, cyber and science.
The agreement includes a pledge from Britain to double troop numbers in upcoming joint military exercises with Japan. It also envisages the two nations working together to protect supply chains – particularly of semiconductors – in the event that China invades or blockades Taiwan.
Given its geographical proximity to the island, Japan is nervous about a possible Chinese invasion. And as far as the West is concerned, Japan’s proximity makes it a key player in upholding stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Sunak and Kishida’s agreement today to pursue ambitious R&D cooperation and skills exchange over semiconductors is of particular importance. At present, Taiwan produces over 60% of the world’s semiconductors and 90% of the most advanced ones.
As Tim Marshall wrote previously on Reaction, semiconductor chips are vital to almost every part of a modern economy: phones, home appliances, robotics, car manufacturing, aviation and advanced weapon systems all rely on them to function. This means a conflict in the South China Sea would have grave consequences for the entire world.
War in Ukraine has brought the fragility of global supply chains into stark relief. Vladimir Putin’s gas blackmail and Kyiv’s blocked grain exports have highlighted the dangers of relying on hostile countries – and the nations vulnerable to their aggression – for vital goods and raw materials.
The pact Kishida and Sunak signed today suggests the two leaders are all too aware of this. Which is why they are keen not to repeat the same mistake – underestimating Russia’s ambitions towards Ukraine – when they assess Chinese aggression towards Taiwan.
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