• Kyodo

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Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi boarded the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on Monday at the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in a demonstration of the robust ties between the two nations.

Kishi's inspection of the state-of-the-art carrier came as Japan and the U.K. deepen their defense cooperation in response to China's military buildup and assertive territorial claims in the region.

"I felt Britain's strong desire for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region," Kishi told reporters. "By boarding the vessel, we were able to widely publicize the further development of defense cooperation with Britain at home and abroad."

London has been stepping up its engagement in the region, partly propelled by Beijing's attempts to undermine democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

The carrier strike group led by the Queen Elizabeth, which was commissioned in 2017, is making its first port call in Japan.

The aircraft carrier is the U.K.'s largest, capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft including British and U.S. F-35B advanced stealth fighter jets, according to the Royal Navy.

While inspecting the fighters, Kishi said he also held talks with the group commander, who was present together with the country's ambassador to Japan, and stated his determination to enhance cooperation.

Since Thursday the strike group has been conducting joint exercises with Japan's Self-Defense Forces, as well as with vessels from the United States, the Netherlands and Canada, in a veiled counter to China's rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas.

Before Kishi visited the Queen Elizabeth, he inspected the Dutch frigate Evertsen, which is also part of the strike group.

The group, which left the U.K. in May and arrived in Japan on Saturday, is scheduled to leave the U.S base later this week.

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