Building on the original 2016 Trilateral Agreement, the three maritime democracies went a step further to detail the type of missions they will cooperate on in the Indo-Pacific:
Illicit trade in armaments and narcotics
Attempts to circumscribe freedom of navigation
The phrase “routine forward presence” will resonate in the UK defence debate, where there have been questions about the willingness of the UK to return to a military role “East of Suez” and contribute on a decisive scale to security in the Indo-Pacific region. The symbolic value of having this signed on the Royal Navy`s new aircraft carrier is also relevant on this point.
The phrase “we cannot shoulder this burden alone” is striking for what it says about United States policy in the region, where allies have felt US military primacy is declining and its political leadership may have less time for the idea of alliances. This is perhaps a reminder that the US is not against alliances as such, indeed, alliances where allies share burdens are as appreciated as ever.
This is very much an open invitation for “nations that adhere to the international rules based system” to join in a common effort. Note the shared values here do not include “democracy” – so this trilateral can serve as a basis for cooperation with partners (such as Vietnam) who have a different political system, but are “like minded” on the rules based order.
While no adversary is named, it would not be unreasonable to assume the call for “others to responsibly take their place on the world stage in cooperation with regional countries” is directed at the People`s Republic of China.
Alex Soar, international development director for Clarion Events which runs DSEI, told Army Technology:
“With DSEI celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, it is the right time to take the event to Japan for the show’s first iteration outside the UK. We have been working Crisis Intelligence, our in-country partners, for four years to shape the exhibition to fit the unique Japanese market and the needs of the Japanese customer. With the reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution several years ago and the relaxation of restrictions on defence imports and exports, we see that it is an appropriate time to offer a new a route to market for those focused on the Asia Pacific region.”
While in Japan for the The Rugby World Cup, the British Military Rugby team triggered controversy by visiting Yasukuni Jinja, the Shinto shrine that is the focal point for Japanese war remembrance. Those who see Yasukuni as a rallying point for right wing revisionist views of Japan’s history are offended at the insensitivity this implied. Those who take the opposite view, and see Yasukuni as a proper site of remembrance for Japan’s war dead (dating back long before WWII), are offended that the British response appears to take the other side. The handling of the visit left no-one happy.
At a time when the UK and Japanese military and defence communities are moving ever closer in a quasi alliance, it is a regrettable that this kind of diplomatic fumble is still even possible. However tempting it might be to brush it under the carpet, would the UK-Japan relationship actually be better served by taking this as a prompt to think creatively about how War remembrance can be a very strong positive in the relationship between theUK and Japan in future?
The answer is yes. But first, what actually happened?
When the Rugby team posted the above photograph on Twitter showing the team posing in front of the shrine, the publicity this drew a range of responses. As noted in the piece from ABC News, some were favorable, thanking the team for visiting the shrine. Others negative, emphasizing that Yasukuni Jinja is the focus for debate in Japan and the wider region about Japan’s war history. For many, a visit implies an endorsement of revisionist history.
A third take was puzzlement and perhaps disappointment that a UK military team had got into this position without having been made aware of the inevitable reaction. An article in The Times concluded that it was the result of an innocent misunderstanding, quoting UK officials involved in organizing the visit who seemed to confirm this version.
Ensuing coverage referred to it as a ‘gaffe’, ‘very, very naive’, even a ‘diplomatic incident’ and described the UK Ambassador in Japan as giving the team a ‘dressing down’ for their mistake.
The unfortunate RN Officer involved in organizing the visit is quoted as follows:
It was very, very naive,” Commander Arty Shaw, who organized the visit, told the Times. “The ambassador had a word or two, so we’ve been told not to visit any more shrines, just in case.
What the museum can offer on a personal level is a fascinating journey from their military history to where they are now,” Commander Shaw told the Times. “But we didn’t realize the sensitivity [for] specific nations in particular. We know now.
Apparently sensitive to misunderstandings that might result from this, the website of the UK Embassy in Tokyo then tweeted out (in Japanese) short messages clarifying the following points –
To date the UK Ambassador in Japan has not directed anyone against visiting shrines.In fact, the UK Ambassador himself recently visited Meiji Jingu Shrine with the visiting UK international trade minister, and regularly accompanies many British guests to visit shrines.The Embassy expects a lot of British sightseers in Japan for the Rugby World Cup to come into contact with many aspects of Japanese culture, including shrines.The UK respects the traditions and culture of Japan.The UK government understands that there are various attitudes about paying respects at Yasukuni Shrine.
Britain of all countries should be able to empathize on the delicate area of war memory, and its curdling mixture of guilt and pride. Winston Churchill himself acknowledged that some of the things he had done in war would have put him in a pickle had the result gone the other way. Our armies fighting the Japanese in Bruma took few prisoners, and the horrors of Dresden, Hamburg, and the Atom bomb decision stayed in Winstons thoughts to the end.
Yet today we are allies with Germany, and quasi allies with Japan. This is a pain from an old wound (or nostalgia as the Greeks would say) we can bear together.
What can be taken from this and applied to do better in future?
1. Rather than taking a defensive attitude towards war history, recognize its potential for strengthening the UK-Japan relationship. War memories can form deep emotional connections among veterans. Coming to terms with actions and policies that would be unacceptable today (and leave deep impressions on our relations with other peoples) is the common challenge of all former Imperial powers. Denial and subjective treatment of history widens divides in domestic and international politics. In short, convert a sense of awkwardness and controversy into as a asset in our relationship.
2. Put this into practice by bringing together veterans groups, historians and contemporary service personnel for commemorations, battlefield tours, visits to war memorials, etc., as part of our defence diplomacy. Bring the history into the light, recognizing what has changed, rather than allowing the issue to be twisted and turned to divisive purposes.
3. Get out in front of unnecessary controversies like this one described above and organize formal, contextualized and well communicated visits to sites of significance for visiting defence, sporting and diplomatic parties.
As Japan’s Ambassador to the UK Keiichi Hayashi put it in a speech several years ago:
By mentioning the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, I am not seeking merely to dwell on past glories. Surely we had the tragedy of another war which we fought against each other and have always to squarely face. However, we are now nurturing a new partnership in the defence and security areas, which perhaps we can calla new type of alliance”
P.S. this article by Professor Earl Kinmonth (Taisho University) was published on the same story:
On August 1, Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, met with the Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State of the United Kingdom, for approximately 60 minutes while at the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. The overview of the meeting is as follows:
1. Opening Remarks
Minister Kono congratulated the Foreign Secretary on the assumption of his office and took the opportunity to express his intention to further strengthen Japan’s close relationship with the UK, cooperating on a range of issues including the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific as Japan and the UK has established the closest relationship ever before since the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Foreign Secretary Raab said that cooperation between Japan and the UK is incredibly valuable and expressed his intention to continue to strengthen the relationship.
2. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU
Minister Kono stressed that the withdrawal process should be conducted in an orderly manner based on an agreement with the EU, stating the importance of minimizing the negative impact on Japanese businesses and the world economy. Minister Kono expressed his strong hopes that the UK can continue to be an attractive destination for investment by Japanese businesses. In response, the Foreign Secretary said that to achieve an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU, Prime Minister Johnson will shortly be visiting European countries. He also stated his intention to work hard to fully alleviate the concerns of Japanese businesses.
3. Japan-UK relations
(1)Minister Kono and Secretary Raab shared the view to coordinate on planning for the upcoming Japan-UK Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting (2+2) to be held early in Japan.
(2)Furthermore, both the Minister and the Foreign Secretary also discussed the Japan-UK economic relations including an establishment of a future economic partnership between their two countries after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Minister Kono welcomed the UK’s interest on a possible membership in TPP11 and expressed his intention to continue to support the UK’s effort through information sharing.
(3)Minister Kono made a request for cooperation regarding the easing of the EU’s import restrictions on Japanese food and feed from regions affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and gained the Foreign Secretary’s understanding on the matter.
4. Regional Affairs
(1)Minister Kono and Secretary Raab discussed the regional affairs, confirming their intentions to continue close exchanges of opinions.
(2)Regarding North Korea, the Minister and Secretary shared the view to continue close cooperation on the complete denuclearization of North Korea. Minister Kono requested the UK’s understanding and cooperation on the immediate resolution of the abduction issue, gaining the UK’s understanding of the Japanese position.
US Admiral Philip Davidson (head of the Indo-Pacific Command) caused a stir with recent comments on discussions with Indian counterparts regarding the “quad” (a loose security grouping consisting of the Australia, Japan, USA, UK), which suggest that there is not “immediate potential” for it to realize a military dimension.
HMS Montrose is on a 3 year deployment, which has included duties in the Gulf and UN sanctions enforcement around DPRK. This projection of maritime power is possible due to the UK`s global support infrastructure and an innovative method of rotating crews that allow Royal Navy ships to be active on duty around the globe for extended periods.
Along HMS Montrose` 5,500-mile journey from South America to New Zealand the type 23 Frigate (armed with the newly accepted Sea Ceptor anti-missile missile system intended to provide defence to the UK`s new Aircraft Carriers, that are expected in the region in a couple of years) also spent some time visiting Tahiti – the first time in 15 years a Royal Navy ship has visited the French island chain – 5,000 miles from Japan, 2,500 miles from Auckland. During her time in Tahiti, Montrose honed her air defense skills against a French Guardian Maritime Patrol Aircraft. And the French made use of HMS Montrose, practicing setting down one of their Dauphin helicopters on the flight deck – all before the British warship sailed into the capital Papeete. (detail courtesy of Navaltoday.com)
NHK reported a trilateral exercise involving the helicopter carrier (soon-to-be fixed wing aircraft carrier) Izumo and ships from the Royal Navy and US Navies.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is to conduct its first joint drill with the US and British navies in the Pacific off southern Japan later this week. The MSDF says its largest destroyer, the Izumo, the British Navy’s HMS Argyll, and a US naval vessel will take part in the exercise. In the drill planned for Saturday, personnel will check the roles for each vessel and the procedures for information-sharing based on various scenarios, including conflict situations. The exercise is apparently aimed at showing the partnership among the three countries amid China’s increasing maritime activity. The mid-term defense program, approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday, says Japan will actively promote bilateral and multilateral drills. The SDF will be given more opportunities to strengthen its partnerships with the forces of other countries.
This gives form to the trilateral naval agreement signed in October 2016 at the Pentagon by the chiefs of all three navies, committing them to “strengthen maritime contributions for achieving mutually desired strategic effects”.
It is not quite the post-World War I “Four Powers Treaty” Britain, France, Japan and USA signed in 1923 in the wake of the Anglo-Japan Alliance (1902-1923), but it is getting there.