UK, Japan Sign Historic Defence Pact Allowing Reciprocal Military Access

UK, Japan Sign Historic Defence Pact Allowing Reciprocal Military Access
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands at the start of a bilateral meeting at the Tower of London on Jan. 11, 2023. (Carl Court/Getty Images)
Alexander Zhang

Britain and Japan have signed a defence agreement to allow the two countries to deploy military forces in one another’s territories, making the UK the first European country to have a reciprocal access agreement with Japan.

Downing Street called the pact—signed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in London on Jan. 11—the most important defence treaty between London and Tokyo since 1902.

The pact is part of the UK’s defence and foreign policy “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific region, following an integrated review in 2021 that recognised the growing impact of China in the area.

“The relationship between our two countries is stronger than ever, not just across trade and security but also our values,” Sunak said in welcoming Kishida to the Tower of London, where the agreement was signed.

Sunak offered “wholehearted support” for Japan as it prepares to host the G7 later this year, while also telling his counterpart that the UK “warmly welcomes the ambition” in Japan’s national security strategy.

Kishida was greeted at the centuries-old Thames-side castle by a guard of honour of Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters.

During the visit to the castle, Sunak and Kishida were shown Japanese armour that was presented to King James VI in 1613 by the then-Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada of Japan to mark the first trade agreement between England and Japan.

‘Hugely Significant’

The access agreement has been years in the making, with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreeing to a deal in principle in May 2022 during Kishida’s first official visit to Britain.

Downing Street said the pact will “rapidly accelerate defence and security cooperation” and will “cement the UK’s commitment to Indo-Pacific security, allowing both forces to plan and deliver larger scale, more complex military exercises and deployments.”

The signing comes just weeks after the UK and Japan collaborated, along with Italy, to develop the next generation of combat air fighter jets under the new Global Combat Air Programme.

Last month, the UK and Japan also commenced a new UK–Japan digital partnership to strengthen cooperation across cyber resilience, online safety, and semiconductors.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrive at the Tower of London on Jan. 11, 2023. (Carl Court/Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrive at the Tower of London on Jan. 11, 2023. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

The UK government said that all three agreements “reinforce the UK’s unwavering commitment to ensuring the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific, and exemplify the depth of friendship between the UK and Japan.”

Sunak said the UK and Japan have “written the next chapter” of their relationship in the past 12 months, “accelerating, building, and deepening” bilateral ties.

“We have so much in common: a shared outlook on the world, a shared understanding of the threats and challenges we face, and a shared ambition to use our place in the world for global good, ensuring our countries prosper for generations to come,” he said.

He said the Reciprocal Access Agreement is “hugely significant” for both nations, as “it cements our commitment to the Indo-Pacific and underlines our joint efforts to bolster economic security, accelerate our defence cooperation, and drive innovation that creates highly skilled jobs.”

He added, “In this increasingly competitive world, it is more important than ever that democratic societies continue to stand shoulder to shoulder as we navigate the unprecedented global challenges of our time.”

In a statement after the meeting, a Downing Street spokeswoman said the two leaders affirmed the agreement is an “important step” for their countries.

“Collaboration across defence and security would not only benefit Japan and the United Kingdom but broader global stability, the leaders agreed,” she said.

“Discussing Japan’s leadership of the G-7 in such unprecedented times, the Prime Minister welcomed Prime Minister Kishida’s plans to focus on the impact of the invasion of Ukraine on global food and economic security.”

The China Threat

Kishida’s visit to London is part of a whistle-stop tour to five G-7 nations, marking Japan taking on the rotating presidency of the group for 2023.

His trip, which will see him visit France, Italy, the UK, Canada, and finally the United States in the space of five days, comes as Japan breaks from its post-war restraint to take on more offensive roles in response to the rising threat from China’s communist regime.

On Dec. 16, Japan unveiled its biggest military build-up since World War II with a $320 billion plan that will buy missiles capable of striking China and ready it for sustained conflict.

The Japanese government said it would also stockpile spare parts and other munitions, expand transport capacity and develop cyber warfare capabilities.

The sweeping, five-year plan, once unthinkable in pacifist Japan, will make the country the world’s third-biggest military spender after the United States and China, based on current budgets.

Kishida’s government is concerned that Russia has set a precedent that will encourage China to attack Taiwan, threatening nearby Japanese islands, disrupting supplies of advanced semiconductors, and putting a potential stranglehold on sea lanes that supply Middle East oil.

PA Media and Reuters contributed to this report.