During a visit to the Tower of London today, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signed what is being called ‘the most important defence agreement between our nations since 1902’.
The move is part of Britain’s strategic “tilt” to Asia, in support of allies in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Tower Guard provided by Number 12 Company Irish Guards, turned out ceremonially to honour the Japanese leader, who is on a two-day visit to London.
In the heart of the ancient fortress where the Crown Jewels are kept under constant guard, and where history seeps from every stone, Rishi Sunak and Fumio Kishida signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) on behalf of their respective countries.
We have so much in common: a shared outlook on the world, a shared understanding of the threats and challenges we face, and a shared ambition to use our place in the world for global good, ensuring our countries prosper for generations to come. Prime Minister RISHI SUNAK
During their visit the two Prime Ministers saw a display of Japanese armour that had been presented in 1613 to King James I (aka King James VI of Scotland) by the then-Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada of Japan. The military gift was given to King James to mark the first ever trade agreement between England and Japan.
The RAA signed today will allow the UK and Japan to deploy forces in one another’s countries. It establishes rules about logistics and legal issues laying the ground for increased joint military training and exchanges. The pact follows the UK’s integrated review in 2021 that recognised the changing geo-politics in the region.
Military co-operation between the two countries is at its highest level since the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902-1923. The Band of the Coldstream Guards has been a regular Asian visitor, performing in Japan annually to packed concert halls for several decades, promoting Britain’s soft power in the East. But more recently, Japanese and British troops have conducted joint training exercises in Japan enabling an expansion of capabilities and expertise should they be needed to work together operationally in East Asia.
In November British and Japanese troops took part in a bilateral war game exercise called Exercise Vigilant Isles in Gunma prefecture in central Japan. Members of 1 Regiment Royal Horse Artillery boosted by soldiers from 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 104 Regiment Royal Artillery worked closely with the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force to develop operational tactics and to promote mutual understanding and trust.
Mr Sunak said the accord would “cement the UK’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific” and bolster economic security. The defence agreement will allow both countries’ forces to plan and deliver larger and more complex military exercises and deployments.
Mr Sunak said: “We have so much in common: a shared outlook on the world, a shared understanding of the threats and challenges we face, and a shared ambition to use our place in the world for global good, ensuring our countries prosper for generations to come.”
The UK Prime Minister added: “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.”