UK's top diplomat expresses support for Abe's security bills
KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Amid heated debate, protests and falling approval ratings due to bills intended to beef up Japan's defense, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received a pat on the back from Philip Hammond, the U.K.'s secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.
During a joint interview with the Nikkei Asian Review and the Financial Times on Saturday, the visiting Hammond welcomed the security bills -- currently under debate in parliament -- as well as the Abe government's controversial decision last summer to reinterpret the constitution to expand the scope of activity of Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
"We very much welcome Japan's security legislation," the U.K.'s top diplomat said in an interview at the British Ambassador's residence, located just across from the Imperial Palace. "Japan has played an important role in dealing with some of the important challenges around the world but it has been constrained by the self-imposed restrictions in the Japanese constitution.
"We welcome Japan's decision to reinterpret the way those will work so that Japan can make a bigger contribution to maintaining the peace and stability of the international system." He added that "there is significant scope for a collaborative approach to working between U.K. armed forces and Japan's Self Defense Forces" in joint exercises as well as humanitarian initiatives and disaster relief.
Hammond was in Tokyo for a one-day visit, the first stop on a four-country tour to strengthen the U.K.'s ties with fast-growing Asia. He held strategic talks with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, the fourth such talks between the countries, before leaving for his next destination, Singapore.
While strongly supporting legislation that China vehemently opposes, Hammond was also steadfast in his belief that China is "an increasingly important economic power" and that the world needs to accept this reality, rather than oppose it.
Explaining the rationale for the U.K. being the first European heavyweight to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Hammond said, "Britain recognizes that there will have to be changes to the architecture of international organizations to reflect the reality. By becoming involved and helping shape the governance structure, we have been able to actually ensure that the AIIB will be a constructive part of the international infrastructure rather than a destructive one."
The AIIB was inaugurated earlier this year.
Hammond also expressed his government's desire for the U.K. to host the AIIB European office. "London is one of the world's financial capitals," he said, "and we would expect [the] AIIB eventually to want to have an office in London."
Tetsuo Kotani, chief researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a think tank, said Hammond's views are in line with many British national security experts that he has discussions with. "Just as the U.S. is in the midst of a rebalance to Asia, the U.K. is also beginning to focus on Asia," Kotani said. "The U.K. strategy is to maintain a good economic relationship with China, while strengthening security cooperation with Japan."
The British Embassy in Tokyo invited the Nikkei and FT to jointly conduct the interview, two weeks after Nikkei sealed a deal with Pearson, the FT's parent company, to acquire the 127-year-old newspaper. "The FT is a fantastic global brand," the foreign secretary said, "and I am sure Nikkei will be very proud to acquire it. The fact that these two organizations are coming together underscores the globalization of financial markets and the globalization of financial information. It also underscores the commonality of values and approaches between Britain and Japan."
Hammond added that the people in the U.K. "will be very keen to see guarantees of editorial independence for the FT."