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Abe and May Deepening Ties on Trade, Security, and Defense

UK Prime Minister Theresa May met recently with Japan’s Shinzo Abe at the latter’s official residence in Tokyo. The talks centered on trade and security, specifically preserving their long history of mutually advantageous economic relations and joint cooperation in dealing with the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missiles launches.

Abe and May Deepening Ties on Trade

Japanese businessmen are naturally apprehensive about the effects of Brexit on their companies located in Britain when its exit from the European Union becomes official. Abe stressed the need for transparency and predictability of the Brexit process to cushion its impact on their businesses, since the “UK is a gateway to the EU.” He noted that about 1,000 offices and factories of Japanese companies are in Britain, opening up more than 160,000 jobs; half of the 1.7 million automobiles assembled in the country are from Japanese firms. Hence, he added, the importance of a smooth and successful UK departure not only for Japan but for the international economy cannot be overemphasized.

May responded positively, saying that a bilateral trade agreement will replace the current deal Japan has with the EU, but the economic partnership agreement between Japan and the EU has to come to a swift conclusion first. According to a Downing Street source, May’s visit to Japan, highlighted by a formal agreement on a trade deal, was “highly successful.”

May and Abe had only good words for each other, and envision deepening ties. But business executives like Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin, a British automobile company, are more restrained in their optimism. Palmer said that investment groups abroad will be watching the Brexit process as it unfolds, how it would affect tariffs, and other trade challenges that may arise before making decisions. He agrees with Abe’s push for transparency.

The other agenda on the Japan-UK meeting focused on the provocative moves by North Korea that is causing international tension. The rogue nation’s leader Kim Jong-un has been launching guided rockets, starting with the short-range ones and progressing to intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the western world.

May gave a reassurance of her country’s support for Japan in the areas of security and, defense while strongly condemning North Korea’s ballistic missile firing. At the State Guesthouse in Tokyo, she stated,

“I want to begin by expressing the U.K.’s strong sense of solidarity with Japanese people.”

In August, North Korea fired a missile just over Japan, raising tension in the East Asian nation and drawing global condemnation of Pyongyang. Japan, a key ally of the United States, is in the firing line of North Korea. Almost 40,000 US troops are stationed in the 23 military bases scattered across Japan. It does not help that the current US president continues to verbally attack Kim and provoke him into mouthing similar rhetoric. The unpredictable Kim may fire at Tokyo and South Korea just to send a message to the US.

The two PMs jointly recognize that China plays a “key role” in pressuring North Korea to discontinue its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles launches. Japan will benefit from UK’s support in asking for China’s help. Historically, Tokyo and Beijing ties have never reached a warm level; at times, it can turn icy-cold. One reason for this is the contentious issue of the Nanjing massacre that happened 80 years ago.

Britain recognizes the importance of Japan as an economic partner. Tokyo is the 11th biggest buyer of UK products and services, in spite of the distance between the two countries. Japan is also the world’s third biggest economy, and the only Asian nation in the G7 roster. Abe and May foresee a long-term symbiotic mutualism between their countries that could link them to other Asian nations as well. Hence, Japan’s security is a crucial issue that Britain supports.

Japan and the UK also gave a joint statement that called for strict implementation of the UN Security Council’s sanctions and resolutions pertaining to North Korea. The military cooperation between the two nations extends to the sharing of equipment, facilities and exchange of defense technologies.

In this regard, Abe is firm in his stand that Japan will not allow provocations from the reclusive communist state, and stressed this in separate conference calls with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, US President Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Abe noted that China has the means to influence Kim to stop his nuclear program and his development of ballistic missiles.

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Anees Saddiq

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