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
His Excellency Mr Keiichi Hayashi shakes hands with William Hague (4 July 2013)
The Ambassador of Japan to the UK, Keiichi Hayashi, gave a speech about Japan-UK relations on 23 July 2013 in Portsmouth, UK. One section of that speech sums up the current status and direction of Anglo-Japan relations on a strategic level:
“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” (my emphasis).
The UK’s Foreign Minister William Hague also used the ‘A-word’ recently:
“Japan is a key ally of the UK and we work closely together on many issues of global foreign and security policy”.
What is going on? Of course Japan and Britain were allies about a century ago, but surely that era is so far behind us as to bear no relation to the present circumstances. Or is it?
“The focus of international competition is moving steadily towards the Pacific Ocean and… Japan is obliged… to play an ever increasingly [sic] part in the peaceful development of that portion of the globe [cheers]. I sincerely hope … that these friendly feelings and mutual sympathies which have existed between us in the past shall be daily more strongly cemented in the future [cheers].” Ito Hirobumi, London, 3 January 1902
Might today’s ‘partnership’ be different in form, but similar to the old alliance in function? Given the changes that have occurred in Japan, Britain and the rest of the world since the early 1920s, difference in form is to be expected. Understanding those differences might even tell us something worthwhile about Japan and Britain’s place in the world today.
This ‘new type of alliance’ between the UK and Japan is the subject of this blog. Over coming months, I invite you to contribute to the search for answers to the following questions:
What is the evidence for a new type of alliance developing between the UK and Japan?
What is this alliance for?
What are the right standards and criteria for measuring the success of an Anglo-Japan alliance in the 21st Century?