UK, Japan sign defense deal amid rising concern about China

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida looks on during a joint press statement with Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni at the end of their meeting they held at Chigi Palace government office, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Kishida is in Italy as part of a five-nation tour abroad. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

LONDON (AP) — The leaders of Britain and Japan are signing a defense agreement on Wednesday that could see troops deployed to each others’ countries.

The two countries are strengthening military ties amid growing concern about China’s increasing military assertiveness and designs toward Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province.

The British government said the defense agreement “cements our commitment to the Indo-Pacific” region. It is due to be signed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.K. leader Rishi Sunak during a meeting in the symbolic setting of the Tower of London fortress.

The deal has been in the works for years, and was discussed when Kishida visited Sunak’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, in London in May. The Reciprocal Access Agreement — Japan’s first with a European nation — allows the two countries to hold joint military exercises.

The British government said it will allow the armed forces of the two Group of Seven countries “to plan and deliver larger and more complex military exercises and deployments.”

It reflects a new “Indo-Pacific tilt” in Britain’s foreign policy following the country’s departure from the European Union in 2020. Britain sees Japan as its key East Asian ally.

“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,” Sunak said.

The two leaders were meeting at the Tower of London, a 1,000-year-old former palace and prison that houses the Crown Jewels. Sunak’s office said they will view Japanese armor presented to King James in 1613 by Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada of Japan to mark the first-ever trade agreement between England and Japan.

Japan has joined Western nations in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Moscow. Japan also has supplied Ukraine with helmets and other non-lethal military aid.

Japan is concerned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could have an impact in East Asia, where China’s military has grown increasingly assertive and threatened to unite with Taiwan by force if necessary.

Concerned about rapid weapons advancement in China and North Korea, Japan in December adopted key security and defense reforms, including a counterstrike capability that makes a break from the self-defense-only principle it has maintained since its defeat in World War II.

Japan holds the presidency of the G-7 this year, and Kishida is on a weeklong trip to visit allies including Italy, France, Canada and the United States, where he is due to meet President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday.

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