China criticized a defense pact signed Wednesday between Britain and Japan that could see troops deployed on each other’s territory. Both London and Tokyo have described China as a “challenge” in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The Asia-Pacific is a pacesetter for peace and development, not a wrestling ground for geopolitical games. China is a partner for cooperation for all countries instead of a challenge,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing.
“Defense cooperation between the relevant countries should be conducive to enhancing mutual understanding, trust and cooperation among countries and should not create imaginary enemies or introduce the outdated mindset of bloc confrontation into the Asia-Pacific region,” Wang said.
The defense deal was signed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his British counterpart Rishi Sunak in the Tower of London, a medieval fortress that houses the crown jewels. The two leaders were shown a set of Japanese samurai armor that was presented to Britain’s King James in 1613 by Shogun Tokugawa to mark the first trade agreement between England and Japan.
The pact is officially called the Reciprocal Access Agreement and was agreed to in principle last May. It is the first time that Japan has signed such a deal with a European ally. Thousands of American troops are stationed in Japan as part of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
In a statement, Sunak’s office said, “In this increasingly competitive world, it is more important than ever that democratic societies continue to stand shoulder to shoulder as we navigate the unprecedented global challenges of our time.”
The two countries also agreed to work, alongside Italy, on the development of a new sixth-generation fighter jet. The British firm BAE Systems is already working on a prototype known as Tempest. It would be the biggest Japanese-European defense cooperation program ever undertaken.
Japan is seeking to shore up defense ties in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s military expansion, analyst Jonathan Eyal of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute said.
“It’s an open secret that [British] special forces have been training on Japanese territory. The reality is that the militaries of the two countries have been training for a number of years now. This will be easier in to do in Japan because the legal framework will be in place,” Eyal told VOA.
“There is every intention of helping the Japanese in terms of training. And the key element is training for rapid response. The fear of Japan is that they may be confronted with a fait accompli with, let’s say, the Chinese seizure of some uninhabited Japanese island, to which the Japanese at the moment are unable to respond adequately,” Eyal added.
For Britain, the defense pact is part of a geopolitical tilt toward the Asia-Pacific region.
“The only influence that Britain can have — on what is becoming the center of gravity of world security concerns — is through a system of alliances. There is a view in London that the Europeans cannot continue to ask for U.S. protection in Europe without helping the U.S. with the security provision in Asia,” Eyal told VOA.
Sunak and Kishida also discussed Britain’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal signed by 11 countries. Britain is seeking new trade agreements following its exit from the European Union.
The Japanese prime minister is visiting European and North American allies from the Group of Seven, including France, Italy, Canada and the United States. Japan currently holds the G-7 presidency.
Following talks between foreign and defense ministers in Washington on Thursday, the United States and Japan agreed to further strengthen security cooperation. In a joint statement, the two countries said China presented an “unprecedented” threat to the international order.