Hugo Swire speech at UK-Japan Global Seminar

Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire gave a speech about the strength of the UK-Japan relationship covering prosperity and security.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Hugo Swire

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a privilege to be here today, to lead the discussion on an important topic – the strategic partnership between the United Kingdom and Japan – and to do so in such a prestigious forum. I am most grateful to Chatham House for hosting this event.

Quite simply, the UK-Japan relationship is vital to both our countries’ continued wellbeing - so I am pleased to report that it is in excellent health.

Prime Ministers Cameron and Abe met for the first time as leaders on Monday at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. Whilst there they discussed our shared strategic ambition. Our determination to promote global economic growth and ensure a prosperous future for both our nations: bilaterally; through the G8; the G20; and through freer and deeper trade.

Last night I attended Prime Minister Abe’s excellent speech in the City of London, where he outlined his domestic economic reform programme.

The significance of the decision to give this speech in the world’s financial capital is not lost on the British Government, or the City of London, or even the EU. It says a lot about how Japan views the UK – something I am sure our other speakers will touch on. However, I want to focus on how the UK views Japan, and to give my assessment of how the relationship is progressing.

It is a relationship with strong foundations; bolstered by distinguished bodies such as the UK-Japan 21st Century group, which is led on the UK side by Lord Howard. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the important work of this group, which met recently here in London. As with every year, I know that both of our governments will pay close attention to their recommendations.

And, of course, last year saw Her Majesty The Queen warmly welcome His Imperial Majesty the Emperor to the UK, in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee. The Prime Minister enjoyed an excellent visit to Tokyo, where our two countries agreed a joint statement that continues to shape and guide our relationship.

Of course, our relationship goes beyond purely political exchanges. Equally important is our economic co-operation, shared values, personal links and cultural ties – for example our active education exchanges, including the highly successful Jet programme. And organisations such as the Japan Society and the Daiwa Foundation.

Then there is our shared history. If I may, I would like to reflect a little on this – as this year, 2013, marks two important anniversaries.

150 years ago, in 1863, Japan still practised the policy of sakoku Japan was closed to the world; outside contact officially forbidden.

But that year five young Japanese men – the Choshu Five, as they became known – stowed away on board a boat bound for London, where they obtained degrees before embarking on quite remarkable careers. One went on to become Prime Minister of Japan, another became Foreign Minister.

All five played a key role in the Meiji Restoration which, five years later, opened Japan to the world. Their experiences in the UK were of value as they set about shaping and defining modern Japan.

And whilst I discuss auspicious anniversaries, let me go back still further, this time 400 years and 9 days to be exact, to another key moment in our shared history. That’s when the Clove, a ship of the East India Company, arrived at the island of Hirado in south-west Japan. This arrival saw the establishment of official relations between the UK and Japan for the first time.

So while ours is a broad, modern relationship – it is based on links and exchanges that span centuries. This is important.

And what I want to speak about today are three key areas that relate to the United Kingdom’s relationship with Japan: our efforts to promote prosperity, how we are working together on security, and our perspective on where the relationship sits in the wider world.


As the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has made clear, Britain is in a global race for growth. But it’s a race we cannot win alone. We need to strengthen and renew existing links, as well as forging new alliances.

Trade is a vital part of that. We need to rediscover the pioneering entrepreneurial spirit that saw British traders cross the globe in search of new markets and new relationships -and Japan will continue to be an indispensable partner.

The UK already exports goods and services to Japan worth almost £10 billion a year and as many as 450 British companies have operations there. In Japan, British companies are succeeding across a range of markets: in manufacturing, consumer goods, in high-tech and service sectors. Last year the Government helped more than 2,000 British businesses in Japan, selling everything from sausages to wireless internet networks for trains.

And we value Japanese investment which has benefited British infrastructure and manufacturing here at home. There are more than 1,200 Japanese companies operating in the UK, employing over 110,000 people – and that number is increasing all the time. The Japanese automotive investment revolutionised the car industry in the UK in the 1980s.

Nissan, now the UK’s biggest car exporter, announced last year that it will invest a further £127million in the UK. Its Sunderland plant, which directly employs around 5500 people, achieved record-breaking levels of productivity in 2011/12.

Now, Japanese investment in our nuclear industry could make a similarly radical and welcome change, in an area that is a priority for our energy policy.

Of course, promoting prosperity does not begin and end with bilateral trade and investment. Nor can the economic success of the UK – or anywhere else for that matter – be achieved in a vacuum. In a globalised, networked world the fluctuations in another country’s economy, positive or negative, diffuse rapidly across borders. A strong and prosperous Japan is therefore firmly in Britain’s interests, and vice-versa.

And so, it was with interest that I listened as Prime Minister Abe outlined his “national growth strategy” last night. His vision to promote trade, liberalise industries, strengthen universities and improve career opportunities for women shows a real ambition to tackle some of Japan’s greatest economic challenges.

As Prime Minister Abe explained, these challenges are considerable. But his inspiring speech made clear that he dedicated to tackling these problems.

His personal commitment to create an open and innovative Japan was obvious. I was struck by the image that he will be the drill bit breaking through Japanese bureaucracy.

From the first outpost established in Hirado, 400 years ago, to the present day, trade is in our nation’s lifeblood. We therefore warmly welcome the fact that one of Prime Minister Abe’s economic arrows will promote free trade. We can both benefit from bringing down barriers and increasing market access. The EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement could be worth an extra £5 billion a year to the UK, while Japanese exports to the EU could rise by almost a quarter.

And British companies are willing to offer their skills and experience as Japan liberalises, and they stand ready to be Japan’s partners of choice.


However, prosperity cannot be achieved without physical security, which underscores the importance of our growing co-operation in this area.

In Tokyo in April last year, David Cameron and then Prime Minister Noda issued a joint statement pledging to work more closely on defence and security issues, spanning a range of subjects from peace support operations to cyber security and counter-piracy.

And I am pleased to say that over the past year we have done this.

In October we held the first meeting of a new, Foreign Minister-led Strategic Dialogue in London – as envisaged by the joint statement. And, subsequently, in January, I opened the 10th UK-Japan Political-Military talks; the first to be led by a minister on both sides.

In July, here in London, we will sign an agreement establishing a legal basis for the UK and Japan to collaborate on joint research, production and development of defence equipment, enabling our Governments and industries to work together to the benefit of our mutual security. We will also conclude an information security agreement, which will allow us to share classified information to support that. The UK will become the first country in the world to sign such a Defence Equipment Framework Agreement with Japan, and we already have our first joint project lined up.

This co-operation is reinforced by the regular exchanges between our two defence ministries. Our naval vessels are deploying together on maritime security operations and exercises – a capability that is vital in protecting the trading links of our island nations. Later this year a Royal Navy warship will visit Tokyo. The Japanese Navy will also visit Portsmouth – the home of the Royal Navy.

We are also keen to strengthen our co-operation on cyber security - an issue you will be discussing later today.

Our shared aims, values and the benefits of closer ties are perhaps most visible in areas where the UK and Japan are working together to find solutions to today’s urgent global challenges: in the Middle East, in Africa, in tackling climate change, and of course in North Korea. I know that the fate of the Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang continues to cause significant distress in Japan. We were pleased that the G8 issued a joint statement urging North Korea to resolve this issue.

Japan, like the UK, is also concerned by events beyond her borders. During recent visits to South-East Asia and the United States, Prime Minister Abe made clear his desire for Japan to play a more proactive role in contributing to international security, an aspiration the UK very much welcomes.

She is an active member of the United Nations – in fact our voting records are closely aligned. And we continue to support reforms to the Security Council that would see Japan become a permanent member.

We also welcome Japan’s involvement in the “Friends of Syria” process and the Deauville Partnership, as well as the recent increase in her contributions to both the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan and her assistance to Syria.

We face common threats from terrorism, piracy, nuclear proliferation and the instability that results from failed states. We both have to deal with problems of energy security and a dependence on fossil fuels. And we are all vulnerable to the effects of climate change: rising sea levels; unpredictable weather; and disruption to food and water supplies. All of these issues demand a global response.

But there are also opportunities to be seized. The low carbon technology market is worth £3.3 trillion globally, and is growing at 3.7 percent a year. Legally binding targets for clean energy production – something that Japan and the UK have led the way in advocating – will leverage further investment, bringing more jobs and driving faster growth. We believe that Japan’s target of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050 remains both realistic and necessary to help achieve our shared goal of limiting climate change to less than two degrees. To assist with this, Britain has world-class specialists in nuclear decommissioning, nuclear safety and public engagement that can support Japan’s civil nuclear programme.

Our relationship in the world

On all of these issues and more, Japan is a strategic ally. We share common values, and a belief in accountability and the rule of law, and a desire to achieve a global deal on emissions reduction in 2015.

It is a country that can help to build an Asian model of democratic stability, prosperity and respect for universal rights. I think of Prime Minister Abe’s speech that he was due to deliver in Jakarta, but which was aborted because of the Algeria crisis. In it he stressed five new principles for Japanese diplomacy. Among them were the need to protect shared values and to promote free, open and interconnected economies.

We valued the co-operation we received from Prime Minster Abe at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne earlier this week, in promoting our priorities of trade, tax and transparency. And we look forward to working closely together at the G20 in St Petersburg in September.


And so, as I hope I have made clear, the relationship between the United Kingdom and Japan is an enduring one: valued in equal measure by both our governments and both our countries. It is political, economic, social, cultural and historic. And at its core are shared values.

We work together in many ways and in many places – as true strategic partners. And I see this continuing, to the benefit of both our peoples, in the future.

Further information

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Published 20 June 2013