Written by Aditi Khanna
The UK government has announced plans for the deployment of a new Carrier Strike Group led by aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth later this year as part of its “renewed focus” on the Indo-Pacific region, following talks with Japan.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab discussed the deployment of the aircraft carrier during the “2+2” virtual meeting with their respective Japanese counterparts, Ministers Toshimitsu Motegi and Nobuo Kishi, this week.
“The UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt, including the visit of HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region, demonstrates our shared priorities and common strategic interests from maritime security to climate change and free trade,” said Raab.
It marks the UK’s latest post-Brexit move targeted at the Indo-Pacific region, following its formal application earlier this week to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) free trade group, the 2021 Commission for which is being chaired by Japan.
“Japan and the UK have forged a close defence and security partnership that is being elevated to new heights this year when the UK Carrier Strike Group visits the Indo-Pacific,” said Wallace.
“The most significant Royal Navy deployment in a generation demonstrates the UK’s commitment to working with our partners in the region to uphold the rules based international system and promote our shared security and prosperity,” he said.
The UK’s move comes amid China’s aggressive moves in the Indo-Pacific region. China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam Beijing has impeded commercial activity like fishing or mineral exploration by countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, claiming that the ownership of territory belonged to China for hundreds of years.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said that the Carrier Strike Group (CSG21) will herald a new era for UK-Japan defence and security cooperation, providing opportunities for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and their respective Japanese counterparts to operate together and support opportunities for future collaboration, including on the F35 and Amphibious programmes.
The FCDO said a recent Maritime Security Arrangement agreed between the Royal Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Forces (JMSDF) is one example of how the two countries’ Armed Forces are deepening their relationship.
The arrangement, signed by JMSDF and the First Sea Lord Tony Radakin – head of the Royal Navy – will see the two countries share maritime domain awareness between each other, helping to create a safe environment for international shipping transiting between the Indo-Pacific and Europe.
In this spirit, the four ministers committed to further cooperation on monitoring illicit ship-to-ship transfers by North Korea.
In recent years, the FCDO noted that a growing defence partnership between the UK and Japan has seen the British Army become the only Army other than the US to train with Japanese forces on Japanese soil.
The Vigilant Isles training exercise series establishes annual cooperation on training exercises between the British Army and Japanese Ground Self-Defence Forces (JGSDF).