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Japan, UK, USA Maritime trilateral hardens, details shared commitments.

Chief of Maritime Staff Adm. Hiroshi Yamamura, left, First Sea Lord Adm. Tony Radakin, and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday sign a Trilateral Head of Navy Joint Statement aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). The trilateral cooperation agreement reaffirms the three countries’ commitment to increased collaboration and cooperation.
(Image: (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Raymond D. Diaz III/Released))

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:

  • Piracy
  • Maritime Pollution
  • Illicit trade in armaments and narcotics
  • Human trafficking
  • 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.

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