TOKYO (Reuters) – Britain said on Tuesday it would permanently deploy two warships in Asian waters after its aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and escort ships traveled to Japan in September through seas where China competes for influence with the United States and Japan.
Plans for the much-publicized visit of the aircraft carrier strike group come as London deepens security ties with Tokyo, which has expressed growing concern in recent months over China’s territorial ambitions in the region, including Taiwan .
“Following the strike group’s inaugural deployment, the UK will permanently assign two ships to the region from the end of the year,” UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in a joint announcement to Tokyo with its Japanese counterpart, Nobuo Kishi.
The British Embassy in Tokyo did not immediately respond when asked which ports in the region Royal Navy ships would operate from.
After arriving in Japan, Kishi said, the Queen Elizabeth and her escort ships would separate for separate stops at US and Japanese naval bases along the Japanese archipelago.
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A close ally of the United States, Japan is home to the largest concentration of American military forces outside of the United States, including ships, planes and thousands of navies.
The British aircraft carrier, which carries F-35B stealth jets on its maiden voyage, will dock at Yokosuka, headquarters of the Japanese Fleet Command and USS Ronald Reagan, the only US aircraft carrier deployed forward .
The Queen Elizabeth is escorted by two destroyers, two frigates, two support ships and ships from the United States and the Netherlands.
It will arrive in Japan via the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by China and Southeast Asian countries, with stops in India, Singapore and South Korea.
As a further sign of Britain’s growing regional engagement, Wallace, who visited Japan with a delegation of military commanders, said Britain would eventually deploy a coastal strike group as well, a marine unit trained to undertake missions including evacuations and counterterrorism operations.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Irene Wang; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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