Although the New Year is just a few weeks old, the scourge of terrorism has ominously forced itself high on the agenda of the international community. Two innocent Japanese citizens who were being held by ISIL terrorists have been brutally murdered. This atrocity has caused great anguish to the families of the victims and profound indignation among the people in Japan. Prime Minister Abe, while offering deep condolences to the bereaved families, reaffirmed that Japan would never give in to terrorism but would work with the international community in efforts to bring about peace and stability in the region. In this regard, Japan will not only implement the humanitarian assistance pledged by the Prime Minister last month but will also expand such assistance, which is intended to help millions of vulnerable refugees and displaced persons, particularly women and children, who live in fear, hunger and scarcity. Japan much appreciated the robust messages of support and solidarity received from world leaders, including Prime Minister Cameron.
Not surprisingly, terrorism was one of the main topics addressed at an historic occasion in London in the latter half of last month. This was our first bilateral Foreign and Defence Ministerial (‘2+2’) Meeting. For this purpose, Mr Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs, arrived in London on 20 January after visiting India, France and Belgium. On the same day, Mr Gen Nakatani, Minister of Defence, travelled to London from Africa.
On 21 January Foreign Minister Kishida took part in the Japan-UK Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. With this year marking 70 years since the end of WWII and a period in which our ties have notably flourished, there was a real sense of occasion as the ministers embarked on their discussions, which led to agreement to step up bilateral cooperation on a number of major issues including our economic ties, nuclear power and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Meeting of Japan-UK Defence Ministers also took place that day. Defence Minister Nakatani and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon exchanged views on the policies of both countries in the field of security.
These separate meetings were followed by the ‘2+2’ gathering of all four ministers. On this occasion, as well as conferring on the fight against terrorism, the four ministers shared views on a wide range of security- and defence-related topics including the current situation in Ukraine, developments concerning Russia, and matters involving Asia, including China, North Korea and the South China Sea. They issued a joint statement declaring their intention to step up bilateral defense and security cooperation. In particular, they agreed to intensify collaboration as regards defence equipment and technology, maritime security and cyber defence, and to reach an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) as soon as possible. They concluded by announcing that they would hold their next meeting in Tokyo.
One of the especially topical issues discussed at the ‘2+2’ meeting was the Ebola outbreak, something for which both countries are working hard to find a solution. In this regard, the following day I attended a highly significant event. This was a gathering hosted by the former actress Akosua Essien and her husband Michael, the famous AC Milan footballer, representing the organisation Health Africa International, aimed at publicising the campaign United Against Ebola (#UnitedAgstEbola). Also supported by The Rt. Hon. John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, the occasion was an ideal opportunity for me to meet British and African friends who were keen to support efforts to contain Ebola, and to inform them of what Japan was doing to this end.
There will shortly be another ‘first’ in the form of a visit to Japan by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge at the end of the month. The Duke, the Duchess and their son Prince George have already attracted keen interest among the Japanese people, and this fascination is sure to grow even stronger when he is there. The visit cannot but add momentum to the solid and ever-deepening friendship between our two countries and peoples.