Commentary / Japan

Intersection of U.K. and Japan interests

When May comes to Japan next week, she will find herself in alignment with Abe on the big issues

by Hugh Cortazzi

British Prime Minister Theresa May is leading a delegation of U.K. businessmen to Japan on Wednesday for a short visit. What are British interests in relation to Japan and Japanese interests in relation to Britain and where do they differ?

The United Kingdom recognizes the political and economic importance of Japan and seeks closer relations and better understanding between our two countries.

It is a vital British interest that peace should be maintained in Asia. Britain is worried by the threat to peace posed by North Korea and will support efforts to keep up pressure on the regime through economic sanctions and diplomatic action. Britain attaches importance to the maintenance of American guarantees to the security of Japan and South Korea. It therefore regards U.S.-Japan security arrangements as of paramount importance, but Britain does not support military action against North Korea.

Britain recognizes that there are historical issues between Japan and South Korea and welcomes all efforts to smooth Tokyo-Seoul relations.

Britain does not recognize Chinese claims in the South China Sea and is concerned by the militarization of islands created or claimed by China. It considers that the Senkaku issue is best “left on the shelf.”

Britain as a parliamentary democracy regards the maintenance of democratic institutions and the upholding of human rights and the rule of law in Japan as a sine qua non.

It attaches importance to close relations between the royal and Imperial families. The British recognize the valuable role that Emperor Akihito has played in postwar reconciliation and are pleased that Crown Prince Naruhito studied at Oxford.

British ministers recognize the important role of language and culture in contributing to better understanding between our two countries, though they are unwilling to put increased resources into developing “soft power” relations.

Britain’s primary interests in Japan are economic. Britain wants to expand exports to Japan and therefore attaches great importance to the removal of remaining trade barriers as envisaged in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “third arrow.” It welcomes steps to improve corporate governance and accounting practices in Japanese companies. It is likely to seek to expand British sales of defence equipment and access to government contracts e.g. for the Tokyo Olympics.

Britain would like to promote an increase in British investment in Japan, greater technological cooperation between British and Japanese companies and more joint ventures in third countries

Britain attaches particular importance to Japanese investment in manufacturing as well as in services and nuclear power. Britain will stress its welcome for further investment and will explain British investment incentives. The City of London recognizes the valuable role played by Japanese banks and securities companies.

Britain regrets the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Britain was an enthusiastic supporter of progress in trade negotiations between the European Union and Japan and would like to see an arrangement post-Brexit reflecting the advances made in these negotiations. It will look for signs that a mutually advantageous bilateral trade agreement can be concluded after Britain has left the EU and that air and other services can be maintained without interruption or hindrance.

Japan’s interests in relation to Britain are both political and commercial.

Japan recognizes that although Britain’s world role has diminished and its influence especially in Europe reduced by Brexit, Britain still has an important political and strategic position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a leading member of NATO. Japan’s interests in Europe are multifaceted and the EU as a whole is a more important market for Japan than the U.K. alone. Japan regrets the British decision to withdraw from the EU and before any progress can be made on a bilateral agreement with Britain, Japan will want to see what arrangement Britain can make for trade with the EU. It will want to ensure that Brexit does not jeopardize the interests of Japanese companies trading with and investing in Britain and other EU countries.

Japan welcomes the assurance given to Nissan, Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers that they will not be allowed to suffer as a result of Brexit. The terms of these assurances, which have not been made public, are unclear, but Japan will expect the British government to ensure that these promises are honored in letter and spirit.

Japanese ministers will seek reassurance that Japanese financial institutions in the City of London will be protected both in any interim period and post-Brexit. They may press for assurances that if Britain leaves Euratom, that will not affect Japanese interest in nuclear power in Britain.

Japan will welcome British support in dealing with the threat from North Korea. It will seek British understanding of its concerns over Chinese external policies and of the dangers from anti-Japanese demonstrations in China. It regrets that the British in giving priority to the Chinese market are paying less attention to Japan.

The Japanese may wish to remind the British of their interest in making progress over the outstanding issue of the islands off Hokkaido that were seized by Soviet troops in 1945.

Japan has an interest in British immigration arrangements post-Brexit and will want the issue of work visas for Japanese company employees and for scholars and students at British universities simplified and liberalized.

There will inevitably be discussion of the threats from terrorism and there is likely to be agreement on stepping up security cooperation.

Climate change is also likely to feature on the agenda. Both Britain and Japan regret President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord.

Underlying all discussions will be concern about how to deal with Trump. Both Abe and May have some experience of the difficulties of dealing with him.

The agenda will be wide ranging but there are few contentious issues and the visit should pass off smoothly. Let us hope that a useful boost can be given to trade and investment.

Hugh Cortazzi was the U.K. ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.

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