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Japan and Britain agree to pressure North Korea to halt its threats

Ministers also call for 'free and open Indo-Pacific' region

Kyodo

The Japanese and British foreign and defense ministers agreed on Thursday to apply maximum pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile development, while working to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region amid China’s maritime assertiveness.

According to a statement released after the so-called two-plus-two talks in London, the ministers hailed the formulation of a first-ever action plan laying out specific efforts to enhance bilateral security ties. They also agreed to continue studying the development of a new air-to-air missile by working on a prototype.

The talks were attended by Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera from Japan and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson from Britain. It was the third two-plus-two meeting between the two countries, with the most recent one held in January last year in Tokyo.

The dialogue followed a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his British counterpart, Theresa May, in August, during which they committed to elevating their partnership to the “next level through comprehensively enhancing security cooperation.”

In Thursday’s statement, the ministers said they agreed to “apply maximum pressure on North Korea to urge it to take concrete actions towards abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” while condemning the country “in the strongest terms.” Japan and Britain will “never recognize a nuclear-armed North Korea,” they added.

During a joint news conference held after the meeting, Johnson said military options should be avoided when it comes to reining in North Korea.

Onodera said Japan and Britain agreed to ramp up maximum pressure on the country while seeking cooperation from China and Russia.

Kono said the meeting has demonstrated the two countries’ strong determination to strengthen a free international order.

The ministers also said in the statement that ensuring a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region is a shared interest, while welcoming Britain’s increased involvement in security issues in the region that may include the deployment of its aircraft carrier in the future.

The ministers said they “remained concerned” about the situation in the East and South China seas where China has territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations, vowing to oppose “any unilateral actions that could increase tensions.”

Reaffirming the two countries’ commitment to boosting security ties, the ministers announced a plan to conduct a joint exercise between the Ground Self-Defense Force and the British Army next year in Japan for the first time.

In 2016, the countries carried out their first ever joint fighter jet exercise in Japan.

Among European countries, Britain is Japan’s closest partner in defense cooperation. The two countries view themselves as the closest allies of the United States in Asia and Europe, respectively.

In January, the nations signed a defense logistics agreement to make it easier for Self-Defense Forces members and the British military to share supplies during U.N. peacekeeping missions, international relief operations and joint exercises.

The nations have also engaged in a joint feasibility study to develop a new air-to-air missile. In the statement issued Thursday, the ministers said they “looked forward to the early embodiment of the joint research project including the research prototyping and the launch testing.”