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The agreement reflects the Government’s wider “tilt to the Indo-Pacific”, set out in the 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

An increasingly close relationship

In recent years, the UK and Japan have developed an increasingly close defence and security relationship.

A 2012 Prime Ministerial joint statement declared “Japan and the UK are each other’s most important partners in Asia and Europe, respectively.” 

Japan was again described as “one of our closes strategic partners” in the Government’s 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.  The accompanying Defence in a Competitive Age command paper described how the UK’s defence relationship with Japan had “deepened significantly” in recent years, with further development planned for the next decade with “our closest security partner in Asia.”

A refresh of the Integrated Review is currently underway.

From Japan’s perspective, strengthening relations with like-minded allies was a key part of its new National Security Strategy, published in December 2022.

The 2023 defence agreement

On 11 January 2023 the Prime Ministers of the UK and Japan signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement in London. The UK Government said it will:

  • Allow the UK and Japan to deploy forces in one another’s countries
  • Rapidly accelerate defence and security cooperation
  • Cement the UK’s commitment to Indo-Pacific security
  • Allow both forces to plan and deliver larger scale, more complex military exercises and deployments.

The treaty is expected to be laid before Parliament shortly.

The UK will be the first European country to have a Reciprocal Access Agreement with Japan, and only the third country to do so. Australia and Japan signed a similar agreement in early 2022, while United States Forces operate under a Status of Forces Agreement.

Service personnel and the death penalty in Japan

The Times newspaper reported that a major sticking point for the UK during the negotiations was Japan’s retention of the death penalty and the risk it could apply to UK service personnel if they committed certain crimes. The Times says a compromise was reached, by which the agreement allows for visiting troops who commit offences while on duty to be dealt with according to the legal system of their own country. However, UK military personnel who are off duty and commit offences will be subject to the Japanese justice system. The Times notes that the death penalty applies to those convicted of “aggravated murder”, which the paper explains usually means mass killings and the murders of children.

Collaboration on next generation combat aircraft

 The UK and Japan (and Italy) are also collaborating on developing a new combat aircraft.

Known as the Tempest programme in the UK, the aircraft is expected to replace Typhoon in service in the mid-2030s.

On 9 December 2022 the Prime Ministers of the UK, Japan and Italy confirmed plans to together develop the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP). This will bring together the Tempest Programme, which Italy is already collaborating on, with Japan’s FX-programme.

The Prime Ministers said the programme will “deepen our defence co-operation, science and technology collaboration, integrated supply chains, and further strengthen our defence industrial base.” 

The Defence Committee has two inquiries underway that discuss both future aircraft – aviation procurement – and UK-Japan relations – UK defence and the Indo-Pacific

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