Japan has welcomed Britain’s decision to deploy the Royal Navy’s new carrier strike group to the Indo-Pacific region amid growing tensions with China over navigation rights.
In talks on Wednesday with their UK counterparts, Japan’s foreign and defence ministers expressed their “strong concern” about a new Chinese maritime law which increases the danger of clashes with regional rivals.
The Coast Guard Law, which came into effect two days ago, empowers the force to take “all necessary measures” – including the use of weapons – if China’s national sovereignty is “illegally infringed upon by foreign organisations or individuals at sea”.
Foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi said: “Japan is staying alert and paying close attention to its effect on us. I believe the law should not be used in a way that violates international law.”
Beijing has already made clear its anger at the decision to send the carrier strike group, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the region on its maiden operational deployment later this year.
It comes at a time when China’s coastguard is active near disputed East China Sea islands controlled by Japan, but claimed by Beijing.
China also claims virtually the entire South China Sea, to the anger of other nations in the region as well as the United States.
Japan sees China’s escalating influence and military activity in the region as a security threat and has been stepping up defence co-operation with the US, Australia, and Southeast Asian countries, as well as Britain.
Following the talks, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the carrier strike group’s deployment would take UK-Japanese defence and security co-operation to “new heights”.
“The most significant Royal Navy deployment in a generation demonstrates the UK’s commitment to working with our partners in the region to uphold the rules based international system and promote our shared security and prosperity, he said.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was part of the UK’s “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific region following Brexit.