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UK-Japan alliance goes operational on North Korea

Photo/IllutrationThe Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force resupply vessel Tokiwa and the Royal Navy frigate Sutherland perform procedures for refueling at sea off the Kanto region on April 27. (Provided by the Maritime Self-Defense Force, published in Asahi Shinbun)

The “new type of alliance” between the UK and Japan recorded in this blog has just passed a major milestone: at this moment Royal Navy ships are operating alongside Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces in the seas off North Korea, policing UN sanctions.

UN sanctions passed September 2017 banned various exports to North Korea in the wake of its sixth nuclear test, making it illegal for ships to transfer goods and items to North Korean vessels. But there have been reports of ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels at sea, in breach of these sanctions. “The presence of HMS Albion in the region is a demonstration of the British government and Royal Navy’s commitment to engaging in international cooperation to ensure that those sanctions are respected,” Mr Wightman (British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman) told reporters. (The Straits Times)

UN member states have the authority to inspect vessels suspected of evading UN sanctions.

Japan is now the hub of a multinational force composed of US, UK, Canadian and Australian elements. National broadcaster NHK reported on 28 April 2018  that Australia and Canada will dispatch military aircraft to a US base in Japan to monitor illicit ship-to-ship transfers involving North Korean vessels. The sources say the patrol aircraft are soon expected to be sent to the US Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan. This may be the first time since the Korean war in the1950s that  multiple non-Japanese forces operate from Japan.

The cancellation by President Trump of the scheduled talks with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un today raises tension in the region, and magnifies the significance of this informal coalition operating round the clock in the seas around the Korean peninsula. Observers of the DPRK will recall that only 8 years ago a South Korean ship “Cheonan” was sunk with the loss of 46 lives in an explosion that the authorities in Seoul attributed to the North Korean navy, probably a submarine.

It would be reasonable to assume that in addition to the aircraft and surface vessels openly engaged in the operation, there is also much more going on below the surface.

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