Reuters and The Associated Press
The United Kingdom announced in July 2021 that it would permanently deploy two warships in Indo-Pacific waters after its HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, pictured, and escort ships sail to Japan in September through seas where the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is vying for influence with the United States and Japan.
Plans for the high-profile visit by the carrier strike group come as the U.K. deepens security ties with Japan, which has expressed growing alarm in recent months over ’the PRC’s territorial ambitions in the region, including its threat to unify the self-governed island of Taiwan with mainland China by force if necessary.
“Following on from the strike group’s inaugural deployment, the United Kingdom will permanently assign two ships in the region from later this year,” U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in a joint announcement in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart, Nobuo Kishi.
The U.K. Embassy in Tokyo did not immediately respond when asked which ports in the region the Royal Navy ships would operate from.
After their arrival in Japan, Kishi said, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and its escort ships will split up for separate port calls to U.S. and Japanese naval bases along the Japanese archipelago.
A longtime U.S. ally, Japan hosts the biggest concentration of U.S. military forces outside the U.S., including ships, aircraft and thousands of Marines.
The U.K. carrier, which is carrying F-35B stealth jets on its maiden voyage, will dock at Yokosuka, the home of Japan’s fleet command and the USS Ronald Reagan, the only forward-deployed U.S. aircraft carrier.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is being escorted by two destroyers, two frigates, two support vessels and ships from the U.S. and the Netherlands.
It will come to Japan through the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by the PRC and several Southeast Asian countries, with stops in India, Singapore and South Korea.
In a further sign of his nation’s growing regional engagement, Wallace, who traveled to Japan with a delegation of military commanders, said the U.K. would also eventually deploy a Littoral Response Group, a unit of Marines trained to undertake missions including evacuations and anti-terrorism operations.
Wallace said the visit by the Royal Navy’s largest warship is part of his country’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” that shares goals with Japan.
“Both our countries seek to protect and uphold the rules-based international order,” he said during a news conference.
Japan also has been seeking to expand and deepen security ties with other nations, including Australia, France and Southeast Asian countries, as the PRC presses its claims to contested areas in the South China Sea and to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China also claims.
Kishi said the U.K. is an important partner in addressing the joint challenges they face in the Indo-Pacific region. “We confirmed our shared position in strongly opposing unilateral attempts using force to change the status quo in the East and South China seas,” he said.
Wallace said it is the duty of the two like-minded countries “to protect those that are unable to protect themselves from adversaries that will threaten them.”
Wallace and Kishi said they also agreed to accelerate discussions on possible collaboration on Japan’s next-generation FX fighter jet, focusing on engine systems and subsystems.
IMAGE CREDIT: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS