TOKYO (AP) — The commander of the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth said Tuesday that the first port call in Japan by his strike group underscores Britain's aim to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific region and its commitment to further strengthen its partnership with Japan.
The visit comes as Japan is seeking to expand its military cooperation beyond its traditional alliance with the United States as China’s navy expands and increasingly presses its territorial claims.
The Queen Elizabeth participated in a joint exercise with warships from the United States, the Netherlands, Canada and Japan before arriving in Yokosuka on Saturday. The exercise was part of efforts to achieve a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision led by Washington and Tokyo.
The strike group's visit “embodies (Britain’s) tilt to the Indo-Pacific, marks a return to U.K.’s enduring presence in the region,” its commander, Commodore Steve Moorhouse, said in an online news conference. It demonstrates “the U.K.'s commitment to investing in our partnership with Japan,” he said.
Moorhouse said they were “escorted and shadowed by Chinese units, which is as expected” during the joint exercise, but the encounter with China’s navy was “safe and professional."
British Ambassador to Japan Julia Longbottom said the Indo-Pacific tilt is not only about security.
“We recognize the shift in world power and economic growth in the Indo-Pacific region and are adapting our posture,” she said at the same news conference. “We also want to work with the Indo-Pacific region to address global challenges" such as the pandemic and climate change.
Japan has become increasingly worried about China’s growing military influence in the region as well as Beijing’s escalating tensions with Taiwan and rivalry with the United States. Japan has repeatedly protested to China over its increased activity near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, who visited Yokosuka on Monday and met with Moorhouse onboard the Queen Elizabeth, said the attention paid by Britain and other countries in Europe to China’s “unilateral” attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas contributes to peace and stability in the region.
The strike group departed from Britain in May. Commissioned in 2017, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is Britain’s largest and most powerful warship. It is capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft such as F-35 stealth fighters, according to the Royal Navy.