UK and Japan to sign defence pact to counter China threat

Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, will on Wednesday sign a defence agreement, enabling the UK and Japan to deploy forces in each other’s countries.

The move comes as the UK government seeks to strengthen its engagement in the Asia-Pacific region to counter the influence of China, although the war in Ukraine has forced London to reassess its global strategy.

The talks in London will also see the two leaders discuss Britain’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade bloc that includes Japan, Canada, Mexico and Chile, in spite of reservations from some Conservative MPs.

The UK hopes to become a member the bloc this year but George Eustice, former UK environment secretary, has warned against rushing to join, claiming it could leave Britain vulnerable to legal challenges that could undermine its farming sector and environmental rules.

Eustice, who supported Brexit, last year criticised Britain’s trade agreement with Australia as being “not actually a very good deal for the UK”. He fears CPTPP membership could see Canada, for example, challenge Britain’s ban on hormone-treated beef.

Sunak and Kishida will focus on a “reciprocal access” defence deal, to be signed at the Tower of London on Wednesday. Downing Street said that under the pact both countries would deliver more “complex military exercises and deployments”. 

Sunak said ahead of the meeting that the two countries were “accelerating, building and deepening” ties, adding that they had a “shared outlook” on the world and understanding of the global threats.

Last month, the UK, Japan and Italy launched the Global Combat Air Programme created with the aim of developing a “next-generation fighter aircraft” by 2035.

The British government said the programme would build on existing defence relationships and accelerate the “advanced military capability” of all three nations.

“This reciprocal access agreement is hugely significant for both our nations — it cements our commitment to the Indo-Pacific and underlines our joint efforts to bolster economic security, accelerate our defence co-operation and drive innovation that creates highly skilled jobs,” Sunak said.

“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.”

Downing Street said Sunak and Kishida will also discuss Japan’s presidency of the G7 and how to bolster support for Ukraine.

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