Visiting British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt met Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Tuesday in Tokyo, reconfirming the “strategic partnership” of the two countries, with Japan welcoming Britain’s moves to strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
During a meeting with Kono, Hunt reaffirmed upholding the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a concept proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to promote free trade and maritime navigation in the region and thereby help countries there to achieve economic prosperity.
The vision is often seen as Tokyo’s effort to keep China’s growing power in check in the region, although Japanese officials have officially denied that.
This year Britain dispatched two warships to the region and conducted joint naval drills with the Maritime Self-Defense Force.
“I’d like to welcome further presence of the U.K. in the Indo-Pacific region,” Kono told reporters after the meeting.
During Tuesday’s talk with Hunt, Kono asked Britain to set a smooth legal transition period before it exits the European Union in March next year, saying “predictability and transparency as well as legal stability” are all “indispensable” for Japanese firms operating in Britain.
Hunt meanwhile said the two countries have “more than just a normal relationship” because their relations are based on a “strategic partnership” with shared values such as free trade, democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.
This is Hunt’s first official visit to Japan after he took the position over from Boris Johnson in July. Johnson quit in protest against Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to maintain close trade ties with the European Union after the country exits the bloc.
In the 1990s Hunt spent two years working as an English-language teacher in Japan, earnestly studying the Japanese language at the same time.
“Your knowledge about Japan is tremendous,” Kono said in English at the outset of the meeting with Hunt, adding he has been looking forward to working closely with him as a foreign minister.
In response Hunt said: “It’s a great pleasure to be here as someone who, more than 25 years ago, used to work at a coffee shop in Tokyo.”
Hunt says he is a fluent Japanese-language speaker but on Tuesday in Tokyo, he didn’t demonstrate his language ability much before reporters.
He spoke Japanese only for one line at the very end of his brief speech that was otherwise all in English, saying: “To friends in Japan, U.K. is always your friend and we count on your good assistance and cooperation” in Japanese.