In a sign of Britain’s growing engagement with Asia, London said on Tuesday it will permanently deploy two warships in Asian waters after its aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and escort ships sail to Japan in September.
The group’s voyage to Japan will take them through seas where China is vying for influence with the US and Japan, CNN is reporting.
Plans for the high-profile visit by the carrier strike group come as London deepens security ties with Tokyo, which has expressed growing alarm in recent months over China’s territorial ambitions in the region, including “reuniting” with Taiwan.
“Following on from the strike group’s inaugural deployment, the UK will permanently assign two ships in the region from later this year,” Britain’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace said in a joint announcement in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart, Nobuo Kishi.
After their arrival in Japan, Kishi said, the Queen Elizabeth and its escort ships will split up for separate port calls to US and Japanese naval bases along the Japanese archipelago.
A close US ally, Japan hosts the biggest concentration of US military forces outside the US, including ships, aircraft and thousands of marines.
The British carrier, which is carrying F-35B stealth jets on its maiden voyage, will dock at Yokosuka, the home of Japan’s fleet command and the USS Ronald Reagan, the only forward deployed US aircraft carrier.
The Royal Navy ships will not have a permanent Asian base, a spokesman at the British embassy in Tokyo said when asked which ports the Royal Navy ships would operate from.
The Queen Elizabeth is being escorted by two destroyers, two frigates, two support vessels and other ships from the US and the Netherlands.
The strike group will come to Japan through the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by China and Southeast Asian countries, with stops in India, Singapore and South Korea.
In a further sign of Britain’s growing regional engagement, Wallace, who travelled to Japan with a delegation of British military commanders, said the UK will also eventually deploy a Littoral Response Group, a unit of marines trained to undertake missions including evacuations and anti-terrorism operations.