British Navy amphibious assault ship arrives in Tokyo

Captain of the vessel insists the visit shows how ‘very global’ Britain is, as it prepares to leave the European Union

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 8:39pm

The British Navy’s flagship amphibious assault ship HMS Albion arrived in Tokyo on Friday extending Britain’s naval presence in East Asia to four months as London deepens military ties in a region it says is vital to global security and economic prosperity as it exits the European Union.

The 22,000-tonne warship, the largest Royal Navy ship to visit Japan in 26 years, docked in Tokyo where it will allow the public, officials and defence industry executives to tour the ship.

An on-board contingent of around 120 Royal Marines will train with Japanese Self-Defence Force troops including joint landings with new Japanese marine units on a beach near Mount Fuji.

“Our visit here is a testament to the global reach of the navy, a very global Britain and of course is aimed at building at our bonds with Japan,” insisted Captain Tim Neild, the Albion’s commander.

As Asia drives global economic growth and Brexit approaches, Britain has sought closer economic ties with the region’s biggest economy, China, and deeper security ties with Japan.

With its ally the United States, Japan has been monitoring China’s growing control over contested areas of the South China Sea, with its construction of island bases on submerged reefs.

At the same time, Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has continued the hawkish trend of shunning its post-second world war pacifist constitution that has barred the use of military force overseas.

London and Tokyo have been holding regular meetings between their foreign and defence ministers since 2015, and are also discussing cooperation to jointly develop new military hardware.

At a press briefing before the Albion’s visit to Tokyo, Paul Madden, the British ambassador to Japan, insisted the growing cooperation was because of “tensions on the Korean peninsula” and “challenges to the rules-based international system”.

The Albion was earlier docked at nearby Yokosuka, home to the USS Ronald Reagan, the US Seventh Fleet’s carrier, and has patrolled waters around North Korea as part of operations to enforce UN sanctions meant to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes.

The Albion, which replaced the British frigate HMS Sutherland, will hand over to HMS Argyll, another frigate, when it leaves East Asia around the start of next month for naval exercises in the Middle East.

Its journey west will take it through the South China Sea, a major waterway for seaborne global trade that is claimed by China and in part by several Southeast Asian nations.

The United States has challenged Beijing’s control there by sending war ships close to Beijing’s island bases through seas it says must remain open to international traffic.

“The United Kingdom subscribes to the rules based system, as does Japan and many other countries, and we are committed to upholding that system wherever we operate on the high seas,” said Neild when asked about China’s maritime activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

At the same time, the navies of China and Southeast Asia held their first maritime exercise this week, Singapore’s defence ministry said on Friday, in an effort to widen cooperation as they negotiate a code of conduct on a disputed waterway.

The “tabletop” simulated exercise in the city state involved the navies of China and all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), before the first maritime drill set to be held in China in October.

“At the end of the exercise, we have strengthened our ability to work together,” Colonel Lim Yu Chuan, the commanding officer of the Singapore navy’s 185 Squadron told reporters. “We have achieved a greater understanding among the Asean navies and the PLA navy.”

The bloc and China hailed progress on Thursday in a long, drawn-out process to negotiate a code of conduct in the disputed waterway.

The navy drills were carrying China’s cooperation with Southeast Asia to a new level, its top government diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Thursday.