The UK has sent its fighter jets to Japan for a joint military drill with the East Asian country, a move that is likely to draw ire from China amid regional tensions.
Four Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft would arrive next week in Japan to partake in their first-ever joint exercise with the Japanese air self-defense force.
The war game begins next Friday at Misawa airbase in the country’s north-east and lasts until early November.
The aircraft took off from the RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and would be accompanied in the long journey by a tanker aircraft, two transport aircraft, and 170 RAF support personnel.
“Japan is our closest security partner in Asia and I want to significantly deepen defense cooperation between our two nations,” said UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon.
Tokyo welcomed the expansion of military ties with London and said the drill was in no way a warning to China.
“The purpose of this exercise is to enhance tactical skills of Japan air self-defense force unit and strengthen Japan-UK defense cooperation. We have no specific country or region in our mind,” the Guardian quoted Japan’s defense ministry as saying on Friday.
British and Japanese officials’ attempts to play down the significance of the move as a routine military cooperation come at a time when both countries have openly voiced concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.
London and Tokyo have both warned Beijing against what they call restricting air or sea travel in the region.
China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the strategically vital waters in the face of rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbors.
Japan has been boosting its military ties with countries like Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam that have overlapping claims in the disputed waters, which act as a gateway for trillions of dollars in maritime trade every year.
Japan has a separate territorial dispute with China over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.
The dispute has at times drawn in trans-regional countries, particularly the US, which has sent a number of its military warships to patrol the region and protect what Washington regards as “freedom of navigation.”
After the joint drill with Japan, the British fighter jets will head to Korean Peninsula to take part in another exercise with South Korea and the US.