Japan-British exercises illustrate determination to maintain order

China’s hegemonic behavior is threatening the free maritime order in the Indo-Pacific. It is important for Japan to cooperate with Britain on defense to maintain regional stability.

Britain’s state-of-the-art HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier came to Japan and conducted joint exercises with countries including Japan and the United States in the waters and airspace south of Okinawa Prefecture.

The carrier sailed in formation with vessels from the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. Navy fleet, while carrier-based F-35B fighters conducted drills with Air Self-Defense Force and U.S. fighters.

The Queen Elizabeth will call at the U.S. Navy’s Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture at a later date. This is the first time the carrier has been dispatched to Japan, indicating that Japan and Britain have entered a new phase in their defense cooperation. It is important that this be enduring, not temporary.

In the “Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy” that Britain released in March, the country spelled out its stance to put priority on the Indo-Pacific region, after its defense policies for Europe. The carrier’s recent dispatch was part of this strategy.

In the background were China’s continued attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. There is growing concern that the freedom of navigation, which is part of the foundation of international prosperity, could be undermined.

Britain’s dispatch of the aircraft carrier shows its determination not to tolerate acts that harm the international order. Japan will welcome Britain as a partner in efforts to realize a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a vision that Japan advocates.

Some observers say it is unclear whether the British military would swiftly be dispatched to East Asia in the event of an emergency.

Nevertheless, if the British forces’ interoperability with the U.S. military and the SDF is improved, those who plot an attack will have to bear in mind the British forces’ participation, and that will undoubtedly boost deterrence.

Each European country is stepping up its involvement in the Indo-Pacific.

France, which has territories in the South Pacific, sent ground and naval troops to Japan in May for joint exercises. This month, Germany also sent a frigate to Asia. The European Union will soon draw up a strategy policy paper on the Indo-Pacific.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has laid out a basic strategy for democratic nations to make a united effort to tackle systemic competition with China. The latest joint exercises were also hosted by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Cooperation among nations is indispensable for maritime security, which covers vast waters. In the Indo-Pacific, it is necessary to use the Quad framework of Japan, the United States, Australia and India as a foundation and have more countries engaged in order to deter China from taking actions that would heighten tensions.

It is hoped that Japan and the United States will further advance their cooperation with Europe and other countries.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 30, 2021.