• Kyodo, Jiji

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The United Kingdom and Japan stand "side by side" on a range of international issues including Hong Kong and the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Wednesday following talks with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.

During their discussions in central London, the two also spoke about defense and security cooperation and ways to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Calling Japan "a key security partner in Asia," Raab said in a statement after the meeting that the partnership "gains its strength from a mutual belief in collective security, respect for the rules-based international system and shared economic and strategic aims."

"Whether it's our collective response to COVID-19, cyber security, climate change, or support for freedom in Hong Kong, the U.K. and Japan stand side by side, and I look forward to an even closer partnership in future," the statement said.

During his stay through Saturday, Motegi will be undertaking late-stage discussions with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss on a new free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Japan.

The two countries are aiming to build on the existing Japan-EU free trade agreement that the U.K. will leave when its Brexit transition period concludes at the end of the year.

London is hoping the deal can be signed in September. It would be the first free trade agreement since the United Kingdom left the European Union in January.

The two countries launched negotiations in June, with Tokyo looking to scrap auto tariffs as soon as possible, while London wants benefits for its financial services and textile industries.

Motegi became the first member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet to travel overseas since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

He will be exempt from Japan's mandatory two-week quarantine upon his return from the U.K. if he tests negative for the novel coronavirus in a polymerase chain reaction test.

Thorough measures to prevent coronavirus infections are being taken for the trip, including limiting the number of people accompanying the minister to under 10.

The Japanese government currently requires all people entering the country to be quarantined for two weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The government hopes to use Motegi's visit as an example of how face-to-face diplomacy should be conducted by government leaders amid the coronavirus crisis. The same coronavirus measures will be applied to Abe if he attends a summit of the Group of Seven major industrial nations that may be held in the United States late this month.

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