During Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's trip to Japan in May, he received valuable assistance from the UK Ambassador to Japan, Julia Longbottom. This visit included PM Sunak's participation in the G7 Hiroshima Summit and his discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Ambassador Longbottom, a seasoned expert on Japan in her third term of service, shared key insights on the impact of the Hiroshima Accord with The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward. Experts have welcomed the Hiroshima Accord, which emerged from discussions in May, as a de facto revival of the Japan-United Kingdom alliance.
Excerpts of the interview follow.
The Hiroshima Accord introduced enhanced Japan-UK cooperation in military exercises, artificial intelligence (AI), and economic security. Was this in response to China's increasing assertiveness, especially its actions concerning Taiwan and its pursuit of hegemony?
The UK is concerned about the stability of the Taiwan Strait. We hope for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue through constructive dialogue without resorting to threats. The UK firmly opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo. Together with Japan, we will continue to emphasize the importance of maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait.
Is the UK concerned about the Indo-Pacific region?
Prime Minister Sunak plans to deploy a carrier strike group to that region in 2025. It is expected to conduct exercises in Japan's vicinity.
What is the significance of Japan-UK collaboration in the realm of artificial intelligence?
AI possesses the potential to transform our daily lives, from facilitating mobility for people with disabilities to discovering insects [that offer valuable pharmaceutical benefits]. The main concern about AI is how rapidly it is advancing. We will encounter risks if we do not establish measures through international agreements and other mechanisms.
It is crucial that we tackle the malicious uses of AI. Its wrongful use for criminal purposes and the creation of fake news can undermine public trust and disrupt society. This is precisely why both prime ministers have placed a strong emphasis on AI, with PM Sunak pledging to host an AI summit later this year .
What was the rationale behind mentioning the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the Hiroshima Accord?
It's not just for the sake of the Ukrainian people, but also to demonstrate to the world that such unlawful acts should not occur. The UK has provided approximately £4.7 billion GBP (around $5.9 billion USD) in non-military aid, including £4.1 billion GBP ($5.1 billion USD) in financial assistance. Military aid amounted to around £2.3 billion GBP ($2.9 billion USD) last year . Our support will continue until Ukraine prevails. The recent armed rebellion by the [Russian private military company] Wagner Group is a sign of internal discord within Russia. If Russia cannot justify its unlawful war, the only correct course of action is the withdrawal of troops to halt further bloodshed.
Why has the UK demonstrated a strong interest in the North Korean abduction issue?
Because it is a shocking story about Japanese and South Korean families being separated. Recently, the UK, alongside Japan and with the support of other nations, raised the issue of human rights in North Korea at the United Nations Security Council. This marked the first such effort since 2017. We will continue to support Japan in addressing the abduction issue.
What is the UK's stance on UN Security Council reform, which is vital in addressing critical issues like the North Korean nuclear and missile problem?
The UK supports Security Council reform that would welcome Japan as a permanent member, and we stand with Japan on this matter.
In Hiroshima, PM Sunak wore red socks carrying the logo of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp baseball team. Was it a public relations strategy?
The decision for PM Sunak to wear those distinctive red socks was a gesture of respect toward PM Kishida, our host and a devoted Carp fan. Among the leaders who joined PM Kishida for dinner, only PM Sunak donned the eye-catching red socks.
This choice was the result of a team effort involving [the British Embassy in Japan and] the UK Prime Minister's Office. As diplomats, our role is to have a deep understanding of our host country [to promote exchange].
About Ambassador Julia Longbottom
Julia Longbottom began her career with the British Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in 1986. She served at the UK Mission to the United Nations and worked at the British Embassy in Japan from 1990 to 1993. Between 2009 and 2012, she was Head of the Far Eastern Department at the FCDO. She also served as Director of Consular Services at the FCDO from 2016 to 2020 and assumed the position of heading the Coronavirus Task Force in 2020. Longbottom has been in her current position since March 2021.
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