Push for enhanced ties in security, energy and investment
• UK–Japan bonds being revitalised
• Both nations have strong maritime history
• Sharing skills in N-power, pharma
On 19 November, British Ambassador Tim Hitchens CMG, LVO addressed members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, nearly one year after assuming his post in Tokyo.
Japan has frequently been the subject of international headlines during the ambassador’s tenure here.
The topics have included the implementation of Abenomics—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic recovery programme—and the on-going challenges relating to the 2011 earthquake and accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The ambassador’s presentation focused on the evolution of the UK–Japan relationship and how he envisions mutual growth going forward.
As 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the bilateral relationship, he began by relating the story of Captain John Saris landing on the shores of Hirado in 1613.
Saris presented the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, with a telescope from King James, while Ieyasu gave Saris a gift of body armour for the king.
“The telescope allows us to look further away than we can imagine, to far off worlds where we find friends. A telescope seems to me the best metaphor for the way in which Japan and Britain keep discovering and rediscovering each other”, the ambassador said.
Hitchens related how the UK–Japan relationship has been one of ebb and flow.
Although the nations forgot about one another for over 200 years after that first trade mission, during his last stint as a diplomat here in the 1980s, Britain and Japan were “the closest of allies”.
During 1989, there was more Japanese investment into the UK than ever before or since. Following Japan’s two so-called lost decades, he feels the relationship is being revived.
“It’s not a coincidence that the British foreign secretary now calls it ‘our most important partnership in Asia’”, he said.
Likening the relationship to a “voyage of discovery,” Hitchens touched on both nations’ strong maritime history. He also described Britain and Japan as “psychologically natural partners … [both] slightly reserved in our approach, always trying to think about how to get our points across politely, and with a long-term view”.
Personally, he said, he has always felt completely comfortable in Japan, whenever his life has brought him here.
Target areas for stronger collaboration
The ambassador then outlined three areas in which there is great potential for expanded UK–Japan collaboration.
First, security: just this summer the two governments signed a landmark defence framework agreement.
“I want to see more joint research and production of specific defence equipment”, he said.
In addition, he encouraged cooperation on risk analysis, exchange visits by naval vessels, more affiliations between squadrons, and “deeper collaboration between our major aeronautical and defence companies”.
Next, Hitchens spoke of the energy sector and the mutual benefits that the UK and Japan can derive in the field of nuclear technology.
Nuclear power is a critical part of Britain’s energy mix, he stated, highlighting the country’s expertise in running a safe nuclear industry. This experience includes knowledge about decontamination and decommissioning.
“I want to see even more Japanese investment in Britain’s nuclear power sector, and even more British support for Japan as it decides the kind of energy future it wants”, he said.
Finally, in the area of investment, he positioned the UK as “the best environment in Europe for Japanese firms: low corporation tax, flexible labour laws, a skilled workforce, a gateway to Europe without excessive European social regulation”.
“Each year more Japanese companies select the UK for their investment projects than anywhere else”, he said, adding that about 140,000 jobs are created in Britain from such investment.
Of particular interest to the UK–Japan partnership are the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors.
Like Japan, Hitchens stressed, Britain exports more cars than it imports, owing to the presence of major manufacturers such as Nissan Motor Company, Ltd, Toyota Motor Corporation and Honda Motor Company, Ltd.
Life science research is also going strong; 17 of the top 20 pharmaceutical firms in the world have research and development or production bases in the UK.
In addition to these topics, the ambassador spoke about the impact of links between ordinary Japanese and Britons.
Currently, 500 British instructors are in the country through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, and Hitchens wants the figure to double.
Finally, he sent a message of encouragement regarding Japan’s role on the international stage, a topic that, of late, has frequently surfaced in the press.
“I want to see an even more active Japan in the world … I would simply say that an active international Japan, confident of its instincts, and working within the international system with partners and allies, will be a significant asset as we try to navigate our way to a prosperous and secure Asia and wider world in the 21st century”, he concluded.