The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

After 100 yrs, Japan-U.K. ties closer than ever

- YUICHI HOSOYA Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

The world faces increasing uncertaint­y as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues while a new wave of novel coronaviru­s infections is rapidly spreading in many areas. Amid such circumstan­ces, one political leader is set to leave the political stage in several weeks while another leader recently was permanentl­y removed — for very di erent reasons. One is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the other is former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

As for the British leader, it was revealed that he had attended parties at 10 Downing Street during COVID-19 lockdowns. When he came under a new volley of criticism for his handling of a sex scandal involving a senior Conservati­ve Party member of Parliament, the loss of public con dence was nally too great.

With many Cabinet members, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, choosing to resign from his government to drive Johnson into a corner, he appeared in front of 10 Downing Street on July 7 and announced his intention to step down as Conservati­ve Party leader.

On July 8 in Japan, Abe died a er being shot during a stump speech in Nara. His assassinat­ion, the rst killing in postwar Japan of a sitting or former prime minister, manifestly shocked the world.

As Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe was widely known abroad.

e assassinat­ion using a gun stunned the world, as Japan had been thought of as a safe country.

As prime ministers, Abe and Johnson saw each other multiple times from 2019 to 2020, including at summits. Over that period, there was major progress in relations between their countries. e two leaders upgraded Japan-U.K. ties to what can be referred to as a “quasi-alliance,” though this did not draw much public attention at the time.

Today, both Japan and the United Kingdom, hoping to stabilize the internatio­nal order, are castigatin­g Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. at said, when taking a look at the past century, Japan-U.K. relations have been full of ups and downs.

When the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty limiting the size of military eets was signed just 100 years ago, it was preceded by the abrogation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance — replaced by a Four-Power Pact between Japan, Great Britain, France and the United States.

e terminatio­n of the Anglo-Japanese alliance resulted from pressure on London from Washington, which feared that Japan and Great Britain might eventually turn on the United States.

Mutual distrust and friction between Japan and the U.K. kept intensifyi­ng from the 1930s until their ties came to a tragic end in December 1941, when Japanese troops landed on the Malay Peninsula, kicking o a battle between the former allies.

On Feb. 15, 1942, British troops surrendere­d to Japanese forces and the Japanese occupation of Singapore began. Japan and the U.K. thus experience­d the darkest period in their past century of bilateral relations. en British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the fall of Singapore as “the worst disaster and largest capitulati­on in British history.” Indeed, the World War II confrontat­ion brought great harm to Japan-U.K. relations.

A er the end of World War II, Japan and the U.K. put e orts into improving bilateral relations by enhancing private-sector exchanges and deepening economic relations. In the 1990s, there was progress in reconcilia­tion between the two countries over wartime history issues, facilitati­ng restored friendship.

Standing on the foundation of ever-growing friendly relations between Japan and the U.K., Abe and Johnson, both attending the Group of Seven Summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019, held their rst bilateral summit. A post-Brexit U.K. would need new foreign partners, with Japan apparently

being at the top of the list of such countries.


A er completely withdrawin­g from the European Union at the end of January 2020, the U.K. had to nd a new internatio­nal identity. To that end, the U.K. under the Johnson administra­tion carried out what could be the most far-reaching review of foreign policy in the country since the end of World War II.

e British government consequent­ly issued a document, “Global Britain in a Competitiv­e Age,” on March 16, 2021. e U.K. has since been exploring the new internatio­nal role it will play as “Global Britain.”

One particular­ly noteworthy part of the document is “the Indo-Paci c tilt.”

is is the U.K.’s post-Brexit declaratio­n of its commitment to “engage more deeply” in the Indo-Paci c region, a global growth center.

Abe unveiled a “free and open Indo-Paci c” vision, while Johnson, for his part, set out “the Indo-Paci c tilt” in the “Global Britain” vision. e Japanese and British visions are now working in sync, as seen in the U.K.’s February 2021 bid to join the Comprehens­ive and Progressiv­e Agreement for Trans-Paci c Partnershi­p (CPTPP) and a British Carrier Strike Group’s port call in Japan in September 2021.

Furthermor­e, Japan-U.K. collaborat­ion has reportedly moved the two countries toward merging their next-generation ghter jet developmen­t programs. As the closest allies of Washington, both Tokyo and London have routinely prioritize­d not only joint developmen­t of military equipment with the United States but also procuremen­t of U.S. ghter aircra . erefore, it is truly unpreceden­ted for Japan and the U.K. to contemplat­e carrying out joint developmen­t of their next-generation ghter jets just between themselves.

e reasoning behind the U.K.’s recent approaches to Japan is a change in intraparty political dynamics within the ruling Conservati­ve Party, which has led to the adoption of hard-line policies regarding China. What does this mean?

In October 2015, then British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to the U.K. in what Cameron called a “golden era” in U.K.-China relations.

At the time, the Treasury and other British economic ministries, mainly driven by economic motivation­s, spearheade­d the country’s drive to seek closer ties with China. eir enthusiasm was symbolized by the decision the U.K. had made half a year earlier to become a member of the China-initiated Asian Infrastruc­ture Investment Bank (AIIB). A Reuters report said the U.K. attached importance to its own national interests at the expense of the Anglo-U.S. alliance. e U.S. government expressed its displeasur­e at the British government’s decision.

In those days, the Cameron administra­tion refrained from denouncing China for its human rights abuses as London was preoccupie­d with strengthen­ing its relationsh­ip with Beijing for economic reasons. Cameron’s conciliato­ry approach to China came under

re from his fellow Conservati­ve Party members, especially its more right-leaning lawmakers.

In 2016, the U.K. held a national referendum to determine whether the country should remain in or leave the EU. A majority of voters chose to leave, thus depriving pro-Europe centrists in the Conservati­ve Party of their clout, with Euroscepti­c conservati­ves gaining political strength instead. is change in intraparty power relationsh­ips led to the government’s inclinatio­n toward hard-line policies regarding Beijing.

At the same time, London has sought to enhance its relations with Tokyo. For example, it adopted the “the Indo-Paci c tilt” in response to the Abe administra­tion’s foreign policies. e fundamenta­l policies that the U.K. has recently taken up are likely to be maintained for some time.

Now, a century a er the abrogation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, Japan is in a position to take the lead in shaping the regional order in the Indo-Paci c.

Japan and the U.K. — democracie­s that bookend the Eurasian continent — now assume important roles in stabilizin­g the 21st-century internatio­nal order. e two countries will remain tasked with doing so even a er Johnson and Abe are no longer on the scene. (July 29)

These democracie­s that bookend the Eurasian continent assume important roles in stabilizin­g the 21st-century internatio­nal order.

Hosoya is a professor of internatio­nal politics at Keio University and the author of numerous books on British, European and Japanese politics and foreign affairs, including “Meisosuru Igirisu: EU ridatsu to Oshu no kiki” (Whither Britain?: Brexit and the EU in crisis).

 ?? Yomiuri Shimbun file photo ?? Then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hand with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, on Aug. 26, 2019.
Yomiuri Shimbun file photo Then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hand with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, on Aug. 26, 2019.

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