TOKYO – Japan and Britain plan a videoconference of their foreign and defense ministers in February to boost security cooperation, amid China’s rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas, sources close to the matter said Monday.
If realized, the ministers will likely agree to work closely on Britain’s plan to dispatch an aircraft carrier strike group, centered on the warship Queen Elizabeth, to the western Pacific for joint naval exercises, the sources said.
They are expected to share concerns about China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in those bodies of water and send a clear message to the international community that maintaining a free and open maritime order is vital, they said.
The so-called two-plus-two meeting will be attended by Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and their British counterparts Dominic Raab and Ben Wallace.
Japan has opposed Chinese vessels’ repeated entries into its territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu.
Japan has welcomed the dispatch of the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, the British navy’s largest warship, commissioned in 2017, to the west Pacific, including the East China Sea.
The British strike group is expected to carry out joint exercises with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military during its stay in the waters.
The online ministerial meeting is being planned at a time when China’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, a former British colony, has soured relations between Beijing and London.
The ministers may also discuss Britain’s interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal grouping 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Australia, Canada and Japan, but not China.
Japan and Britain initially aimed to hold the two-plus-two meeting in April 2019 but had to postpone it due to London’s handling of Brexit and the novel coronavirus pandemic.
During an online meeting earlier this month, Kishi and Wallace agreed to hold the meeting of the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers in the near future.