Britain and Japan are to sign an agreement that would remove obstacles to holding joint military exercises in either country, in the latest sign of deepening military ties with Tokyo.
Besides its security treaty that allows US troops to be stationed on its territory, Japan currently only has a similar agreement with Australia.
Fumio Kishida, the Japanese prime minister, will sign the Reciprocal Access Agreement with Rishi Sunak when he visits the UK this week, according to Japanese media reports.
It is part of a strategic shift toward Asia by the UK amid the growing need to balance China’s influence.
The UK is also working with Japan and Italy to develop next-generation fighter jets.
‘Vigilant Isles 22’
In November, British and Japanese forces conducted a joint exercise called “Vigilant Isles 22”, their first in three years.
The exercise simulated the retaking of an island under enemy control and took place at a military base in central Japan.
Officials from both countries said the island was not specific but it took place amid growing tensions over a possible future Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
At the time a Japanese commander said there was “a whole new level of uncertainty and increasing complexity in the current world situation”.
The new agreement will make logistical co-operation between the UK and Japan easier.
Mr Kishida is on a week-long trip to strengthen military ties with the UK and Europe.
His first stop is France and he will also visit the UK, Italy, the US and Canada – some of the G7 nations with which Japan is stepping up defence ties.
Discussions with Joe Biden
He will discuss the Japan-US alliance at a summit with Joe Biden in Washington.
Japan is moving away from its post-war restraint to take on a more offensive role.
Mr Kishida said his talks on Friday with Mr Biden will underscore how the two countries can work more closely under Japan’s new security and defence strategies.
In December, Japan adopted key reforms, including a commitment to a counter strike capability, which marked a departure from the country’s self-defence principle.
Tokyo said its current deployment of missile interceptors was insufficient to defend it from rapid weapons advances in China and North Korea.
Mr Kishida said he will give Mr Biden details of the new strategy under which Japan is also reinforcing defences on its southwestern islands close to Taiwan, including the construction of new bases.
‘A precious opportunity’
“I believe it will be a precious opportunity to confirm our close cooperation in further strengthening the Japan-US alliance and our endeavour together toward achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“It will be a chance to show the Japanese and US stance to the international community.”
Mr Kishida also said he hoped to deepen personal relationships with other leaders, including Mr Sunak, and discuss the “severe security environment including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.
Under its new strategy, Japan plans to start deploying, in three years, long-range cruise missiles that can reach potential targets in China.
Within five years it will nearly double its defence budget to about two per cent of GDP.
It will also make large investments in improving its cyberspace and intelligence capabilities.
Tokyo wants to do as much as possible in a short time amid the growing risk that China may take action against Taiwan.
Japan’s moves have been well received in Washington by the White House and Congress.
Christopher Johnstone, a Japan expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said: “This is an opportunity to rethink and update the structure and the mechanisms of the alliance to reflect a much more capable partner.”