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Japan and the U.S. have welcomed planned naval deployments this year by major European countries to Indo-Pacific waters, as China’s rapid military modernization and maritime and territorial ambitions prompt moves to increase deterrence.

With Beijing demonstrating increasing assertiveness at sea and on the India-China border, Britain will deploy the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group to East Asia, France will dispatch a naval vessel to Japan and Germany will send a frigate to the Indian Ocean — all in 2021.

There have been doubts in Asia about how much of a security threat Europe sees from China. “What happens in the Indo-Pacific affects Germany and Europe,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said last month, seeking to allay those fears. “We would like to cooperate in safeguarding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, review an honor guard at Suga's official residence in Tokyo on Nov. 17. | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, review an honor guard at Suga’s official residence in Tokyo on Nov. 17. | POOL / VIA REUTERS

Meanwhile, Japan and Australia have been drawing closer, with the two countries agreeing in November of an agreement allowing each other’s militaries to visit for training and joint operations — drawing praise from the U.S. and criticism from China.

Commentator Ramesh Thakur suggests the agreement is best understood as an example of institutionalizing middle-power military cooperation as a hedge against an unreliable U.S. rather than as a measure that gives teeth to Washington’s efforts to contain Beijing’s ambitions in the region.

“References to ‘hedging’ raise the hair on the back of my neck,” writes Brad Glosserman in another commentary on Japan-Australia ties. “The word is used as a curse or condemnation. It is more accurate to think of hedging as a prudential measure to account for uncertainty. In this case, diversifying security relations makes sense regardless of what a U.S. administration does.”

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