HMS Queen Elizabeth visits Japan for drill amid simmering tensions with China

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Japan's Defence Minister Inspects British Aircraft Carrier (Getty Images)
Japan's Defence Minister Inspects British Aircraft Carrier (Getty Images)

The top Japanese military brass were given an exclusive tour on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to marking the start of a permanent military presence in a region trying to come to grips with China’s growing power.

Japan’s defence minister, Nobuo Kishi, and senior Japanese military commanders were shown around the carrier on Monday at a naval base near Tokyo.

“One of the purposes of this deployment is to signal the start of a commitment,” Commodore Steve Moorhouse told a briefing on the $4.15 billion ship. “The prominence of this region is rising significantly.”

Japan, which also plans to fly short-takeoff and vertical-landing F-35Bs from two converted helicopter carriers, is trying to broaden security cooperation beyond its U.S. ally to try to help it reign in Chinese influence it believes threatens the region, including the independence of Taiwan.

Japan is seeking to expand its military cooperation beyond its traditional alliance with the United States as China’s navy expands and increasingly presses its territorial claims.

The Queen Elizabeth participated in a joint exercise with warships from the United States, the Netherlands, Canada and Japan before arriving in Yokosuka. The exercise was part of efforts to achieve a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision led by Washington and Tokyo.

Commissioned in 2017, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is Britain’s largest and most powerful warship. It is capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft such as F-35 stealth fighters, according to the Royal Navy.

Japan, in a recent defence strategy paper, identified neighbouring China as its main national security threat and said it has a “sense of crisis” regarding Taiwan as Chinese military activity around the island intensifies.

“The visit of the British carrier strike group holds great significance, to maintain and strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Kishi told reporters after his visit to the Queen Elizabeth.

China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, says its intentions in the region are peaceful.

While docked in Yokosuka, which is the home of the USS Ronald Reagan, Washington’s only forward deployed carrier, the Queen Elizabeth will also host visits from executives from leading Japanese companies as post-Brexit Britain looks to drum up business deals.

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