It is extremely pleasing that today will see the signing of a significant defence agreement by the prime ministers of Japan and the UK, Fumio Kishida and Rishi Sunak respectively, one that will allow UK armed force members to deploy to Japan and members of the Japanese Self-Defense Force to deploy here in the UK.
As yet another example of the establishing closer ties between the UK and Japan and following on from the recent announcement that Japan will join Italy and the UK developing the sixth-generation fighter as part of the Global Combat Air Programme, one that is led by BAE Systems under ‘Team Tempest’ along with partners Leonardo, Rolls-Royce, MBDA, and the UK MoD, the agreement between Japan and the UK to be signed today is highly significant.
Termed as the ‘Reciprocal Access Agreement’ this may be seen as a further and more significant commitment by the UK to the Indo/Pacific region and its defence just as it may also be seen, as the UK PM Rishi Sunak suggested in the formal statement put out by Number 10 today, as accelerating, building and deepening our ties and underlining our joint efforts to bolster economic security, defence cooperation and to drive innovation in order to create highly skilled jobs.
Agreements such as the one to be signed by the UK and Japan today are often years in the making and they often have a very interesting history.
For example, I would venture to suggest that part of the history relating to the deal to be signed today stretches back to 2017/18 when, following the visit of the Type 23 Frigate HMS Sutherland to Japan , South Korea and Australia back in May 2018, during which time the ship conducted a number of exercises with units from the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force, and the follow up visit made by the amphibious assault ship HMS Albion to Tokyo in August 2018, UK military ties with Japan and other Asia/Pacific nations have gone from strength to strength.
The UK may have been, as arguably still is in regard of certain elements of maritime capability, short of ‘capital ships’ back in 2017 but the commendable and far-sighted decision made by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Gavin Williamson to despatch HMS Sutherland and later, HMS Albion to Japan and Australia the following year and that would not have occurred without support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Treasury, with a mission to forge stronger military ties with Asia/Pacific nations and in particular, to better our own understanding of the genuine increased level of threat that countries such as China posed to Japan, South Korea and Australia, was a well thought through strategy that through the years that followed has undoubtedly achieved considerable benefit and success.
Important decisions such as these have also ensured that highly important nations such as Japan and Australia had a greater understanding of the UK’s genuine intention to play a larger role with our allies ensuring that peace and stability across the Asia/Pacific region remains our number one priority on the international stage. To that end, visits by the Royal Navy ships played an important role is demonstrating continuing UK commitment and military strength.
Reluctant that the Royal Navy might well have been back in 2017 to venture far beyond the Gulf Region, due perhaps to a serious shortage of available ships, specialist engineering and as I recall at the time, key weapons systems officers, it would be in April 2018 that one of the Royal Navy’s primary assets, a Type 23 Anti-Submarine Warfare Frigate, HMS Sutherland visited Japan before moving on to Australia – the latter for a week-long visit during which time anti-submarine warfare search activities and exercises were conducted.
The visit by HMS Sutherland to Japan together with the follow up visit by HMS Albion to Tokyo later in 2018, I venture to suggest that these two ship deployments were not only early and extremely important examples of what the government would later term UK military global reach but they also marked the real beginnings of a new UK commitment to build stronger relationships within the Asia/Pacific region and, with our allies, to do all that we could in order to maintain stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
The example and real commitment that these two ship visits sent to our allies including the US was also extremely important and one might also say that not only were they extremely appreciated but could be considered game changing in respect of UK policy and commitment.
It is from visits such as these and the real commitment demonstrated that leads on to other great initiatives such as the lead up to AUKUS, a trilateral security agreement signed between the US, UK and Australia in September 2021 and one that over time I am sure will be further expanded.
CHW (London – 11th January 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785