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Indo-Pacific

Japan to hold first drills with UK aircraft carrier off Africa

Counter-piracy exercise in Gulf of Aden likely next week

A F-35B Lightning Jet is seen between night sorties on the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on June 21. (Photo courtesy of the Royal Navy)

TOKYO -- Japan will hold joint exercises with the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time in waters off the coast of the Horn of Africa, likely next week, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters Friday.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force will partner with the U.K. carrier strike group for drills in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia, ahead of a planned port call in Japan this summer. Naval forces from the U.S. and the Netherlands accompanying the strike group are expected to join in as well.

The focus will be on counter-piracy exercises, with destroyers involved in anti-piracy operations in the area set to participate on the Japanese side.

"We will take on the global security challenge of piracy together with the U.K.," Kishi said. "We will show we have the will and ability to ensure safe maritime transit."

Commissioned in 2017 and the U.K.'s largest-ever aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth carries state-of-the-art F-35B stealth fighter jets. The strike group departed in May on a long-term deployment to the Pacific region.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth, the U.K.'s largest-ever aircraft carrier, is now headed to the Pacific for a long-term deployment.   © Getty Images/Kyodo

Japan and the U.K. agreed on the joint exercises in a "two-plus-two" meeting of top defense and diplomatic officials in February. The upcoming drills are set to be the first of multiple during the Queen Elizabeth's stint in the region.

In addition to Japan, the carrier is scheduled to make port calls in India, Singapore and South Korea. It is slated to engage in joint drills with Japan again around the time of its port call there, showcasing unity between two countries with shared values in the face of Beijing's active military presence in the East and South China seas.

The U.K., Hong Kong's former colonial ruler, has soured on China amid Beijing's clampdown there under the territory's security law, on top of concerns about its early handling of the coronavirus outbreak and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Pacific deployment aims to demonstrate its engagement in regional security.

Germany is set to send a naval frigate to the Pacific region this year, reinforcing the message of European cooperation with Japan and the U.S.

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