National

Brexit could hamper Japan's efforts on EU deal: analysts

by Ayako Mie, Beatrice Thomas and Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writers

Britain’s historic decision to leave the European Union could hamper Japan’s efforts on a trade deal with the EU as well as its relationship with Asian and other global partners, analysts said.

The comments Friday came as the government here described its disappointment at the exit, and British expats in Japan also reacted in shock and general disapproval.

Trade minister Mikio Haya-shi told reporters on Friday that Britain’s decision “may make it hard” for Japan to reach an economic partnership agreement with the EU by the end of this year.

In May, Japan announced at the Ise-Shima Group of Seven summit that it hoped to reach a deal with the EU, Britain and Germany in that time frame.

“We will watch closely the impact on Japan and the world, and will deal with it properly from the viewpoint of the Japanese interest,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement.

Tina Burrett, a British associate professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University, agreed the exit could hamper Japan’s efforts on the EU deal. “It is not going to be a comfortable situation for the bilateral relationship,” she said.

Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama also expressed his regrets over the result, which came soon after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and G-7 leaders backed the U.K. remaining in the 28-nation European bloc.

“Japan and the U.K. share fundamental values not only from the perspective of trade but also politics and security,” he said. “There will be some impact on Japanese businesses but we have to watch and see,” he added.

Meanwhile, Keio University professor Yuichi Hosoya said that the Brexit could impact on the situation in the South China Sea, particularly as the U.K. and China are building closer ties.

The U.K. is a member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Japan and the U.S. are not participating in. Furthermore, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the U.K. last year brought big-ticketed Chinese investment, including a Chinese nuclear power plant deal.

Hosoya said that Britain is likely to abide by the maritime security statements adopted by G-7 nations that met in Japan recently. But after two years, when the U.K. is finally slated to leave the EU, it is likely that the U.K. will side more with China.

“The more the U.K. increases its economic dependence on China, the weaker the unity among the G-7 countries will become,” said Hosoya, who specializes in international relations and contemporary European history. “That would be bad for Japan, the U.S., and the international community.”

Elizabeth Hackford, 44, a British expat who works at a Tokyo-based financial services firm, said the result was a backward step for Britain and the rest of Europe.

“Being a part of Europe is being part of the premier league,” she said. ” . . . We’ve just thrown in the bin a huge amount of negotiating power, and the expense of bureaucracy for that power is well worth it.”

Hackford said she was concerned the exit from the EU might trigger a domino effect in Europe. If Scotland now decided to separate from the U.K. and join the EU, “we will become a very small country,” she said.

Philip Seaton, a professor at Hokkaido University who is the Japan coordinator of the British Association for Japanese Studies, said it was a disappointing result.

“I just hope that the Brexit camp will take full responsibility for shepherding the U.K. towards a stable post-Brexit era,” he said. “No more blaming immigrants, no more blaming the EU.”

He said Japanese people wanting to study in the U.K. should go now given the expected depreciation of the pound, though he cautioned workers to hold off until the situation stabilized.

Briton Damien Arthur, 41, a Tokyo-based legal recruitment consultant, predicted the result will negatively impact British industry and business. “The status of British industry as a global player will be drawn into question,” he said.

Information from Kyodo added