YUSUKE NAKAJIMA, Nikkei staff writer
LONDON — British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived home Thursday after a 28-week deployment designed to project the U.K.’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific region amid China’s maritime advances.
The Queen Elizabeth left the U.K. in May as the leader of a carrier strike group. The vessel passed through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, sailed through the Indian Ocean and South China Sea and eventually docked at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan.
The tour underscores the U.K.’s post-Brexit foreign policy agenda dubbed “Global Britain.” London looks to contribute to the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific and earn the trust of nations in that neighborhood. This would open the door to closer trade ties that tap into the region’s economic growth.
On the security front, Britain improved interoperability with friendly Indo-Pacific nations. The aim is to counter Beijing’s expansionist activities in the South China Sea and other waters. The Queen Elizabeth took part in joint drills with forces of more than 20 nations and territories, including Japan, the U.S., India and Middle Eastern countries.
During the warship’s deployment, the U.K. and the U.S. formed the AUKUS security framework with Australia. The main part of the deal involves providing Australia technological support for deploying nuclear submarines.
Deepening economic cooperation with the region is imperative for the U.K. London has been pursuing trade talks outside of the European Union following its departure from the bloc under Brexit.
Not only has the U.K. entered discussions to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the country reached trade accords with Australia and New Zealand. None of those deals, however, has been put into force.
Brexit will shrink the U.K.’s gross domestic product by 4% in the long term, a hole that will not be filled easily, said L. Alan Winters, economics professor at the University of Sussex.
“The sad answer is that the government is happy to accept, on our behalf, the economic losses from Brexit in return for political benefits” such as separation from the EU, Winters said.
Doubts are circulating about Britain on the military front as well.
“There are concerns about how far the U.K.’s contributions [in Asia] will continue next year and later,” said a diplomatic source close to the Japanese government.
The U.K. also faces a difficult task in collaborating with Germany, France and other European countries on Asian involvement given London’s awkward relations with the EU. The Global Britain vision will be about the U.K. responding to the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, said Michael Cox, professor at the London School of Economics.