Geostrategy360° is the Council on Geostrategy’s weekly podcast. Hosted by Viktorija Starych-Samuolienė, Co-founder and Director of Strategy at the Council on Geostrategy, it covers geopolitics and environmental security – from a British standpoint
In the thirty-eighth episode of Geostrategy360, Viktorija speaks to Dr Philip Shetler-Jones about Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the UK. They discuss how Japan has responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; Japan’s strategic interests abroad and closer to home; deepening British-Japanese relations; and how the security partnership between the two countries might develop in the future.
Listen to Geostrategy360° on Anchor FM, where you can also find links to other podcast platforms hosting the podcast such as Apple, Google and Spotify.
Today, 5th May Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the end of the Japanese leader’s tour from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Italy. Highlights include –
PM Kishida was given the red carpet treatment, with a review of guards and a flypast.
Strong alignment on the burning geopolitical issue of the day –
Both leaders agreed that Russia’s barbaric invasion marked the end of the post-Cold War period and had major implications for wider international stability. Security in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions was indivisible, they agreed, and the G7 leaders said democracies around the world needed to stand in unity against authoritarian regimes.
Announcement of the long anticipated Reciprical Access Agreement, that will facilitate the expansion of joint military exercises between the UK military and Japanese Self Defence Forces.
Kishida apparently expressed the view that cooperation between Japan and the UK on the latter’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) / future fighter program “could become the cornerstone of the UK-Japan bilateral relationship”, confirming earlier analysis here.
Appointment of a new UK trade envoy to Japan (Greg Clark MP) to support increased trade with Japan and capitalise on the UK’s expected accession to the main Indo-Pacific trade partnersip CPTPP.
According to reports[↗] from Japan’s Ministry of Defence, on 25th December ‘some 20,000 pieces of information related to Japan’s defence may have been leaked in the January 2020 large-scale cyberattack on Mitsubishi Electric Corp.’ Such leaks threaten to stunt the development of the United Kingdom’s (UK) bilateral relationship with Japan, in which joint research and development of strategically important technology is becoming more central.
Britain and Japan have built an ever closer security and defence partnership[↗] over the last decade. The tempo and complexity of exercises and exchanges between armed forces (especially navies) has increased, and the expected conclusion of a Reciprocal Access Agreement[↗] this year indicates the appetite for more. However, availability and deployment schedules will ultimately limit the growth of cooperation in this area. Joint development of technology, by comparison, started on a modest level but has picked up momentum…
ロンドンと東京の間で行われていた以前の日英同盟が終わった原因は、ウィルソン型アメリカの台頭と中国やインドでの民族主義運動の底上げ的な台頭によって、帝国の世界秩序から自己決定型の国民国家への移行という、一つのプロセスの側面にあったのである。W. H. オーデンが「不誠実な10年」と呼び、日本人が「暗黒の谷」と呼んだこの時代には、その秩序は、提案者の責任に支えられていなかったため、平和を維持するにはあまりにも弱すぎることが判明した。
In an era where global power has shifted eastward, a stable balance in British foreign policy requires a “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific, and as the UK goes about securing a sure footing in the region, it will find no better grounding than by deepening its defence and security relations with Japan. Japan is the only country with the right combination of geographic location, defence capability, techno-economic heft and political affinity as well as stability that fits the bill. It is time for a new Anglo-Japan alliance.
Cries of “imperial nostalgia” or “delusions of grandeur” that arise to assail this move are almost too ironic to bear. They not only miss the point that this “tilt” is about the future, they even misconstrue the lessons of the past.
One event brandished as a warning from history not to venture back East of Suez is the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales in the ill-fated Z-force that was sent to reinforce Singapore in December 1941. But if you examine this in its proper context, a completely different lesson emerges.
When the British Empire was near the Victorian zenith of its power, it still recognized that it could only operate in East Asia at the limits of its capability, and so decided to make an alliance with Japan in 1902 to safeguard its interests in Asia. It was only when that alliance broke up two decades later that Britain was forced to face alone the precarious situation that was to lead to its humiliating expulsion from the region. One thing often overlooked today is that the UK returned after WWII, secure once again within the framework of the US-dominated UN system of global security. There it remained to fight victoriously the Cold War in Korea, the “emergencies” and “confrontations” in Malaya and Borneo, then to see the independence of Malaya and the peaceful return of Hong Kong to China. Britain has since quietly continued to contribute to regional security through the Five Power Defence Arrangement (having its 50th anniversary this year), its logistical base in Singapore, and its presence in Brunei. So the lesson we were taught by our old friends in 1941 is not “don’t go East of Suez”, but rather “don’t go alone’. And today the British presence East of Suez is very far from alone.
But there is a second set of ironies – and lessons – to be found in the history of our first alliance with Japan, and the reasons why it ended.
The main source of tension in the 1902-22 Anglo-Japan alliance emerged from the ways Japan and Britain reacted to the rise of Chinese nationalism. While Britain was still preoccupied with fighting WWI, Japan laid down “21 demands” on China that signaled an intention to dominate not just the Chinese administration but also the interests of other powers present in China, including Britain. The irony then was that critics of the alliance in Britain thought it gave Japan a free hand, and in Japan thought it tied their hands. The irony today is that the main factor bringing British and Japanese interests into alignment is China’s attempts to dominate the region at everyone’s expense.
Another source of tension in the old alliance was British suspicion that the Indian independence movement was receiving clandestine support from elements in Japan promoting an Asian liberation movement for a mix of ideological and strategic reasons. Now the irony is the worldview of India, the UK and Japan have become increasingly closely aligned and there is consequently a rapidly developing security cooperation relationship among them under the logic of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, and the so-called “Quad plus” arrangement.
Towards the end of the alliance, one of the nations that objected to the renewal of security ties between Japanese and British Empires was Canada. When the issue was up for consultation at the Imperial Conference in 1921, Canada made clear that it could not be placed into the position where the United States, on which it relied for its security, might go to war with its ally, Japan. Although Australia and New Zealand backed the extension of the alliance, Canada’s veto was critical. Today, Canadian warships and surveillance aircraft are operating together with other “5 eyes” allies Australia, New Zealand, the UK and America (but also with France, South Korea and Japan) in monitoring sanctions violations at sea off North Korea in an operation based out of Yokusuka, Japan.
But the biggest factor in breaking the Anglo-Japan Alliance was America. The United States had come to see Imperial Japan as its main rival and could not tolerate it having the only other global naval power (Great Britain) as its ally. As part of the negotiations to settle global affairs after WWI and against the backdrop of massive British war debt owed to America, Britain felt forced to choose between its old ally and what it hoped would be the new guarantor of world peace. Fast forward a century to 2021, the US navy is now signing trilateral agreements with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces and the Royal Navy. If this is a new kind of Anglo-Japan Alliance, America seems to welcome it.
The causes for the end of our previous alliance were aspects of a single process, which was the transition – catalysed by the emerging dominance of Wilsonian America and the bottom-up rise of nationlaist movements in China and India – from a world order of empires to one of self-determining nation states. In the period that W.H. Auden called “a low dishonest decade”, and the Japanese refer to as their “dark valley”, that order was not underwritten by the commitments of its sponsors, and so proved too weak to keep the peace. The order built in 1945 was based on the same principles but charged by the mighty energies of economically, culturally and technologically dominant America and the support of its allies in the “free world”. Together their commitment and sacrifice sustained it through the turmoil of decolonization and the many challenges of communist aggression from Russia and China. But today as that order is being challenged in turn by the emergence of a large and aggressive rival, middle powers like Japan and Britain are forced to ask themselves once again ‘what is our role in this process?’ Are we bystanders or do we belong in the arena? Some historical lessons should not need to be spelled out, but perhaps this one does. If a nation with the blessings and capabilities of Britain and Japan excuse themselves as mere bystanders, the order that protects them as well as others is over.
Some argue a middle path – that the role of Britain should be calibrated to its region, and we should leave the Indo-Pacific to America. Again, history suggests that would be a dangerous course. One of the weaknesses of the Anglo-Japan treaty was that although it brought formal recognition to the interests of each party in the Asian region, it cemented a division of labour along regional lines. From the British point of view, the protection Japan gave through the alliance to its interests in Asia was welcome, but the withdrawal of British military capacity from the region that this enabled proved a destabilizing factor. By the time the alliance came to an end in the early 1920s, the dominant trend of world disarmament and arms control agreements (especially limiting ships) meant that British interests East of Malacca were to be left terribly exposed until the coup de grace in January 1942. To argue that the Europeans should “backfill’ security in their neighbourhood to allow their American allies to take care of the Indo-Pacific is to fail to learn the lesson that an alliance is sustained by shared equities, and a geographic division of labour invites a ruinous alienation.
What kind of tilt is needed, and what new type of Anglo-Japan alliance can support it? As described above, the tilt is not an uncontrolled lurch, but an adjustment of posture to secure a balance on shifting ground. Britain will always keep one foot planted firmly in its home region. But now as in the past, maintaining that strong position at home requires some shift of resources to allocate support for an alliance over the horizon, where the sun rises.
Public opinion in the UK is generally open to the tilt, judging by a recent survey by the British Foreign Policy Group “UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and Global Affairs Annual Survey – 2021”. When asked “what do you think about the notion of an ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ in the UK’s foreign policy?” more than a third said that the UK’s involvement in the region should be balanced with investments elsewhere, since the Indo-Pacific will be important to global power dynamics and economic growth. That leaves open the question of how many of those believe we have such a balance today, or if such a balance needs more investment towards the East. Even though no policy leader is proposing it, around 8% even responded that the UK should make the Indo-Pacific “the centre of its foreign policy”. So when you sum the support for a balance that allows for the growing importance of the region with those who would go even further than current UK government policy, you find a good amount of support in favor of the tilt. Still, it must be recognized that a significant proportion of those surveyed have yet to make up their minds.
In conclusion, if we are to look to history for lessons now, perhaps these three would be among them – A world order that can deter aggression is a team effort. A geographic division of labour is an invitation to divide and rule. The few countries like the UK who are capable of operating in East Asia should, and can do so productively as part of a multilateral framework. Japan is Britain’s new ally in in that framework.
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: