Rugby, War memories and Defence diplomacy – own goal, or shot at a conversion?

British Military Rugby team in front of Yasukuni Shrine, published in The Times 18 September 2019

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 Times: UK military rugby team visit shrine for war criminals in Japan Sept. 18 2019

Daily Mail: UK Armed Forces team makes awkward gaffe by visiting Japanese war criminals shrine 18 Sept. 2019

China Daily : UK military rugby team criticized for visiting Japanese shrine Sept. 20 2019

ABC News: British military rugby team apologizes after visiting controversial shrine for war criminals in Japan Sept. 20 2019

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 call a new type of alliance

P.S. this article by Professor Earl Kinmonth (Taisho University) was published on the same story:

“Racist `The Times of London`Article Hits UK Military Rugby Team and RWC2019 Host Country Japan”.

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UK, Japan Foreign Ministers meet on sidelines of ASEAN summit

Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan with the Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State of the United Kingdom, while at the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand

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.

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 日英関係: 新たな時代の新たな同盟

この記事はもともと The British Interest で出版されました

Japan welcomes Gen. Carleton-Smith, Chief of the UK General Staff on a visit to the Japanese Ministry of Defence in Tokyo.

今年、地球の反対側に位置する2つの国が新しい時代に乗り出す。日本は令和の新元号が新たな天皇の即位と共に始まり、英国は欧州連合(EU)からの離脱によって「グローバル・ブリテン」が模索を求められている。しかし、この2つの島国が直面する環境 、即ちアジアにおける権力と摩擦、法の支配や人権などの価値観へ挑戦、そして主要な同盟形態の変容など、似たような状況に直面している。イギリスと日本は、新しい時代が広い世界観を必要とするという認識の下、ロンドンと東京が直面する課題は共有されるであろう。 従って、英国と日本が協力しすることで相互効果を促進する手段として、より緊密な関係を模索することが理にかなっている。

Captain Simon Staley (pictured right), arrived in Japan in September 2014 to liaise with the Maritime Self-Defence Forces and was attached to the headquarters of the Seventh Fleet at Yokosuka Naval Base. He is currently the UK Defence Attache in Tokyo.

新たな日英関係は2012年4月に安倍首相とデービッド・キャメロン首相が共同声明に署名して以来、軍事演習や軍事備品交換とから, 北朝鮮に対する 国連制裁の軍事行動に至るまで協力は進んでいる。 英国と日本は、共通の価値観、共通の同盟国、および同様の軍事力を反映して、それぞれの地域において互いに最も近い安全保障パートナーとして認識し合うようになった。それは「準同盟国」と呼べるレベルであろう。 2012年に関係改善決定して以来、政治的状況は、両国にとってより重要な方法で 新しい形の同盟 を推進してきた。

British troops join forces with Japanese for first time on their soil amid North Korea tensions

英国の視点からすると、欧州連合(EU)離脱の決定は、ロンドンに戦略的利益の分散を再分析させ、アラビア湾からシンガポール、そして東アジアへの地域にもっと注意を払うように促した。英国のインド太平洋への復帰は、1970年代のスエズ東部からの英国の部分的な撤退が欧州共同体の加盟を加速した時と同様に、経済的・戦略的な論理的な方向転換と言える。世界的な動向に関心を示し、主要同盟国である米国の戦略的観点をも反映している。 東京も、日米同盟を通じて、(または他の手段で) 安全保障への貢献を拡大する 必要性をに差し迫られている。 このために日本は補完的な能力、相互運用可能な軍事機器、および自国と協調関係にある外交政策を持つパートナーである。日本が直面する地域的な脅威を考えると、刺激的な状況でさえある。

他の戦略的現象も、英国と日本の共通課題だ。欧州連合 (EU) からの撤退に向け、英国は欧州の安全保障目標を達成するために北大西洋条約機構 (NATO) に焦点を当てる可能性が高い。しかし、グローバル・ブリテンのより広範な利益を犠牲にしてより多くの資源を割り当てる前に、イギリス海峡 向こう側の同盟国 特にドイツ、フランス、イタリア、スペイン)が、彼らの責任を満たすことを期待する時が来た。ウクライナでのロシアの侵略は注意を促し、ヨーロッパの防衛支出の石油タンカーはゆっくりと振り向き始めている。さらに、英国がヨーロッパの防衛にどれだけ貢献すべきかを計算することになると、「プーチンのピーク」と見なされるウクライナとシリアに対するロシアの信頼の表示から直接外挿することは近視眼的であろう。 ロシア軍の資金は、近年のエネルギー価格が高いため、依然として高い水準にある。 化石燃料を避ける世界でロシアの人口統計の長期的な影響と経済改革の達成の難しさを認識するにつれて、モスクワは最近の近代化とヨーロッパ人を不安にさせるような外国での冒険の継続するのが難しくなるだろう。 確かに、イギリスはロシアの挑戦を見過ごすべきではないが、日本のように、古いリスクと現地のリスクを比例させ、新しい、より広い文脈に置く必要がある。

ロシアが深刻な問題を起こす可能性がある場所は、ヨーロッパだけではない。近年、ロシアは、米国主導の世界秩序の拒絶、西洋の価値観への反対、小さな国々が排他的な関心のある分野を主張するための大国の権利を受け入れる必要性の共通の利益に基づいて、中華人民共和国と一致している。 ユーラシア全域のこの新しい中国・ロシアの地政学的軸は、特にトランプ大統領の政権が採用した対立的なアプローチの文脈で、英国の戦略計画の主要な要因として考慮されなければならない。

ユーラシアへの地上介入が英国の利益に役立つシナリオを想像するのは難しいが、 北極とインド太平洋地域の自由な航行と資源へアクセスの権利が危機に瀕しているシナリオは非常に異なる問題です。「グローバル・ブリテン」は、いずれの海洋もロシアや中国の排他的な空間として囲まれることを許すつもりはなく、いずれの場合も、日本は地理的、文化的、外交的優位性に位置づけられる準同盟国として期待しているであろう。

2013年、習近平国家主席が権力を握り、中国はより断固たる道筋を立てるようになった:. フィリピンとの海洋領土紛争に関するICJの判決を無視する様子は、香港の自治を定義する1984年の中英共同宣言ももはや「現実的な意味を持たない歴史的文書」として却下したと理解できる。中国はまた、世界的な投資と建設プロジェクト「一帯一路」を立ち上げ、中国がハイテク製造業の10の主要分野「メイド・イン・チャイナ2025」で支配的になることを確実にするために国家補助金を約束し、南シナ海の争われた島々に軍事施設を設置し、新しい世界秩序の創造者を主張している。その結果、中国は国際法を遵守し続け、他国に対し力を行使しないという約束は、信じられない結果をもたらしている。



UK PM Teresa May inspects crew of JMSDF

ヨーロッパ諸国で地域大国と見なされる一方で、着実にグローバルな課題に取り組む能力を高めている。最近の中東での非国連PKOへの最初の自衛隊派遣に見られるように、日本の軍事機器を外交政策のタブーとしてみる傾向は徐々に弱まっている。今年5月のトランプ氏来日の最後に、安倍首相は、地域と国際社会の平和と繁栄をリードする日米を「真のグローバルパートナー」と述べた。安倍首相はまた、英国と日本が自由で開かれたインド太平洋 構想を実現するめのパートナーとして協力強化をするとを確認した。自由で開かれたインド太平洋  構想は、現在、エネルギー、技術、インフラなどの分野への投資と開発と自由で開かれた社会の価値に結集し、米国と日本の政策における戦略的連携になる途上だ。



  • 英国はインド太平洋地域の政策をより明確かつ公的なものにし、地域の同盟国と協力して、戦略的目標を実現するために、軍事、外交、経済分野における共通の価値観に関する声明と協調を図るべきである。日本との「準同盟」は、新しい時代の高い野望を反映した正式な合意に基づきます。
  • 英国は、環太平洋パートナーシップ(CPTPP)の包括的かつ進歩的な協定 への加盟を求めることによって、共有された経済及び貿易利益を保護するためのメカニズムを強化することができる。英国は日本企業にとってヨーロッパへの入り口として果たしてきた貴重な役割を果たしてきた。既存の外務・防衛大臣の「2+2」会合は、FOIP 戦略における英国のパートナーシップを定義する必要性に基づいて、貿易・投資政策を扱う閣僚を含むように拡張され、より総合的な「3+3」形式になる可能性がある。
  • 英国は日本でイギリス海軍の軍艦を前進させることを検討すべきである。シンガポールやブルネイに新しい英国基地が加なるとの憶測があるが、日本は北朝鮮, 北極海,北太平洋周辺の作戦に向けてより良い立場にある. また、米国第7艦隊と海上自衛隊とのシームレスな統合を促進します。シンガポールやブルネイに比べ、日本は、アジア以外の国々を地域の安全保障条項から除外する考えを表明している中国からの圧力に対しても、それほど敏感ではないかもしれない。

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The British-Japanese relationship: a new era calls for a new alliance

The new online journal The British Interest has an article identifying where the Anglo-Japan (or really UK-Japan) relationship fits into the new era of Reiwa and Global Britain (link).


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“Quad” on the shelf. Meanwhile Japan-UK-US Trilateral of Maritime Democracies sails on.

Royal Navy Type 23 Frigate HMS Montrose makes a stop in Tokyo

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.

With perfect timing, another grouping of maritime democracies is poised to show what multilateral military cooperation looks like. From March 14th, Royal Navy type 23 Frigage HMS Montrose joins the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence forces (MSDF) and US Navy for a second sub-hunting exercise (following the one conducted in December 2018) pursuant to the 2016 trilateral maritime agreement.

More details available at the Diplomat, and the website of the US 7th Fleet:

Joining the 7th Fleet aircraft are RN Type 23 frigate, HMS Montrose (F236), Murasame-class destroyer JS Murasame (DD-101), P-1 JMSDF maritime patrol aircraft, and a JMSDF submarine.

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


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Japan welcomes Gen. Carleton-Smith, Chief of the UK General Staff

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Trilateral Japan-UK-US Navy exercise

izumo copy

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.

A follow-up report is here on Def Post.

Another here in Stars and Stripes.

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.

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Britain`s quasi-alliance with Japan

Chapter 2 in the just issued policy paper from the Elcano Institute: “Natural Partners? Europe, Japan and security in the Indo-Pacific”


LS & US (Eds.), Natural Partners_ Europe, Japan and Security in the Indo-Pacific

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British Foreign Minister announces UK-Japan hotline


UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt announced the installation of a hotline linking his office with counterparts in the Japanese government in a wide ranging speech on foreign policy (link) delivered at PolicyExchangeUK on 31 Oct 2018.

Jeremy Hunt explained that his office has for a long time had secure phone connections to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This reflects the famous “five eyes” intelligence family descended from the 1940s era. Is this a prelude to Japan being invited into the five eyes family, as recently suggested in an article in the Nikkei?

As an indication of how he sees Britain’s diplomacy developing in the post-Brexit era, Hunt announced that to “allow for the strengthening of important alliances”,  a secure phone connection with Japan has been installed.

A connection was also added to counterparts in France and Germany.

The speech placed this move in the context of a post-Brexit global Britain foreign policy that consists of:

“..adding links to the chain that will allow us to play our part in linking the countries that share our values.”

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UK assures Japan: “will not have to fight alone” #日英同盟

Sanders ltg

Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders (UK Land Force Commander) shakes hands with Japan Ground Self-Defence Force Lieutenant General Yuichi Takada during a joint military drill in Oyama on October 2, 2018. Credit: MARTIN BUREAU/AFP

Some would question whether ‘alliance’ is the right term to describe the UK-Japan relationship. When you hear this, you might ask instead ‘is there a better word that 同盟 – “allies”? :

“Japan remains one of our most important strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific region and we welcome the opportunity to develop strong bi-lateral ties as well as demonstrate the UK’s approach to joint exercises. No nation operates alone and we want to assure Japan that they will not have to fight alone either”.

UK Land Force Commander Lt. General Patrick Sanders quoted in UK Daily Telegraph 

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