Blog: Post-Brexit Britain has become a military leader in the East – The Telegraph

It is easy to be so consumed by day-to-day international events that you miss a major development. Some days ago, one such development occurred. A treaty, signed at the Tower of London, allowing British forces to be stationed in Japan, and vice-versa, marks a new phase in the re-emergence of Global Britain.

This complements the growing participation of both Britain and Japan in the big multinational military exercises, Operations Talisman Sabre and Pitch Black, now held biannually in Australia. More broadly, it is another mark of the evolving solidarity of the world’s leading democracies in the face of Beijing’s belligerence, and a timely riposte to the China-Russia “no limits” partnership, entered into last year between the world’s most menacing dictators.

It is also a suitable partnership between a Britain that is emancipated from the EU straitjacket, and a Japan that has more than atoned for past sins and is once more developing the military power commensurate with its economic strength. Bravely, both countries are now sending a message to Beijing about the potential cost of adventurism across the Taiwan Strait. For, in the words of the late Shinzo Abe, “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency”.

The UK-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement mirrors a similar treaty concluded with Australia last year (negotiations for which started when I was prime minister). The UK and Australia have now joined the US as the only countries whose forces could readily be stationed in Japan. Indeed, Exercise Vigilant Isles in November last year made UK troops as yet the only foreign boots on the ground – Americans aside – in post-occupation Japan.

It has long been clear that joint military exercises, bolstered by intimate co-operation on the acquisition of key strategic weapons, creates the closest of alliances. Failing to secure a submarine partnership between Australia and Japan was one of my regrets as prime minister, because it would readily have bridged any capability gap prior to the acquisition of the Aukus nuclear-powered submarines. I believed then that Japan had “skin in the game”. Now, a partnership between London and Tokyo to develop the next generation fighter jet should further enmesh both countries into the solidarity networks, like the Five Eyes, that have been important in preserving peace between great powers since 1945.

At the heart of these efforts must be an acknowledgement that the Beijing commissars’ main obsession is taking Taiwan, as the next step towards ending the “century of humiliation” and re-establishing China as the world’s “Middle Kingdom”. Why else would China have quietly been building a navy larger than the US’s, and developing the rocket forces needed to destroy carrier strike groups?

It won’t be from Beijing’s benevolence that peace is maintained in East Asia; only from a calculation that war is not worth it. The growing military ties between Britain and Japan will add to Beijing’s doubts and reinforce deterrence in a partnership for peace.

As Edmund Burke once said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”


Tony Abbott is a former prime minister of Australia

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