With the rise of China's military assertiveness and increasing shows of force in Taiwan, Japan, and the UK have begun strengthening their military ties. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement, which is Japan's first military agreement with a European country.
The agreement allows the two Group of Seven nations to hold joint military exercises and had been in the works for years, with Kishida last discussing it with then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in May.
The British government said that the agreement "cements our commitment to the Indo-Pacific" region.
Sunak told Kishida, "The relationship between our two countries is stronger than ever, not just across trade and security, but also our values."
The agreement will allow the armed forces of both nations "to plan and deliver larger and more complex military exercises and deployments." Britain now sees Japan as its most significant 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 of the partnership.
The meeting took place at the Tower of London, which houses the Crown Jewels, and Sunak and Kishida viewed Japanese armor that had been presented to King James in 1613 by Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada of Japan, which marked the first trade agreement between Japan and England.
The agreement with the UK comes as the war in Ukraine approaches the one-year mark, and Japan has joined many Western countries in condemning Russia for its invasion and imposing sanctions against Moscow. While Japan has not supplied weapons to Ukraine, it has provided helmets and other non-lethal military aid.
Japan has concerns that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will have an influence in East Asia, where China has been insistent on uniting with Taiwan and has threatened to use force to do so.
In December, Japan adopted major security and defense reforms as concerns grow about China and North Korea's rapid weapons development in recent years. The reforms include having a counterstrike capability, which parts with Japan's self-defense-only policy, which has been in place since the country's defeat in WWII.
Kishida is also set to meet with Joe Biden at the White House on Friday as he fulfills his duties as President of the G-7 this year. His visit to the U.S. will conclude a week of visiting allies, including France, Italy, and Canada.
Japan announced a $320 billion military buildup in early December as part of its response to what the nation sees as a growing threat from China and North Korea.
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