Are Japan and the UK Trading Places?

Japanese flags in Tokyo. Flickr/James Cridland

As Britain is leaning out, Japan leans in.

Coming a full circle, it seems that there is much that Japan and the United Kingdom might do together to add value to their capabilities at this time of uncertainty and change. There is already talk within London’s corridors of the desirability of an FTA with Japan, though this will doubtless take time to negotiate. The two are currently engaged in early defense-industrial cooperative development, and have been widening strategic and foreign policy discussions in the defense minister–foreign minister talks (2+2). The possibility for greater U.S.-UK-Japan trilateral cooperation opens up all sorts of possibilities within the intelligence, cyber and space sectors. Regardless of Brexit or continued incrementalism within Japan, both London and Tokyo have a large range of institutional and industrial assets at their fingertips. Both are also seeking closer ties with New Delhi at the moment, a further area of potential cooperation.

As we look toward the remainder of this summer, we see a China that is highly likely to build up its military assets in the South China Sea, ignoring the recent finding of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Simultaneously, we might see calls from within the EU to drop the arms embargo on China from states that have vested industrial interests in doing so. Britain’s absence from the EU’s top tables could have a destabilizing effect on Asia’s already precarious balance of power. Perhaps London and Tokyo might craft a bilateral diplomatic venture within Brussels and the capitals of Europe in that eventuality.

There is something to be said about the UK losing its sheen precisely as Japan begins to step up to the plate as a contributor to global security, but for those who believe the UK is out for the count, should consider London’s pluckiness and the deep support among its population and foreign policy elites for many of the liberal values that undergird the international system. It also has a long history of maritime operations, intelligence and expeditionary warfare that make it a superb partner for Japan. The fact that both work closely with American forces and seek interoperability with NATO allies creates an even deeper synergy for bilateral cooperation. At a time of uncertainty and change, one can never have too many friends.

John Hemmings is an adjunct fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS and a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics (LSE), where he is working on U.S. alliance strategy in the Asia-Pacific. Follow him on Twitter: @johnhemmings2.

Image: Japanese flags in Tokyo. Flickr/James Cridland

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