Interview: May's Japanese "charm offensive" not win bold endorsement she sought, says British expert

Source: Xinhua| 2017-09-01 23:32:16|Editor: Lu Hui
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) welcomes visiting British Prime Minister Theresa May in Tokyo, Japan, Aug. 31, 2017. (Xinhua)

by Larry Neild

LONDON, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May's three-day charm-offensive visit to Japan was premature, a leading expert on British-Japanese relations said Friday.

Dr. John Nilsson-Wright, senior research fellow in Chatham House's Asia Program, said the Japanese government remained cautious over Brexit because of continuing ambiguity.

"Any expectations that May's visit was going to deliver some positive announcements and singing praises were misplaced," said Nilsson-Wright, who spoke to Xinhua on the phone.

He said May's visit to Japan will be discussed in London later this month at Chatham House's headquarters which is to be attended by high-ranking figures from Japanese political and business circles.

The event: A Retreat from Globalism? Angle-Japanese Cooperation in an Era of Nationalism takes place on Sept. 18-19.

Nilsson-Wright added there had been some benefits from May's visit, particularly over security issues.

Britain's decision to dispatch the Royal Navy warship HMS Argyle to the Pacific would be seen as a symbolic gesture by the Japanese.

Sending the frigate to the seas off Japan is part of increasing cooperation on security between the two countries. Although talks in Japan focused on Brexit were premature, Nilsson-Wright said any talks on bilateral relations would be welcomed.

But the inconclusive negotiations in Brussels between the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU) would have been fresh in the minds of the Japanese.

Nilsson-Wright said, "The problem for the prime minister is in Brussels. The UK is not yet able to say what the future relationship will be between Britain and Europe. There is concern that the position of hard Brexit supporters could make life difficult, particularly with the question of access to the European single market.

"There are 1,000 Japanese companies in Britain employing around 140,000 people," he noted. "After Britain's decision to leave the EU was taken in the referendum Japan took the most unusual step of issuing a document expressing the concerns of the Japanese government and the Japanese business community over Brexit."

"The concerns expressed then in that document remain," he said. "It was an unusual and direct expression of their concerns, expressed in their usual polite way."

"In her meeting with the Japanese prime minister, May has not had the bold endorsement she may have hoped for," said Nilsson-Wright, referring to May's Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.

"They are not exactly saying that Britain 'owes' Japan, but the fact is that successive Japanese governments have invested heavily in the UK," said the academic.

Nilsson-Wright has described the EU referendum result as the most epochal shift in UK foreign policy since the Suez Crisis of 1956 and has the potential to set in train a series of changes that could, in theory, threaten the integrity of the entire project of European integration.

The British decision to leave the EU also raises important comparative questions and insights for Asia specialists interested in Japan, he said.

In a speech Thursday in Tokyo, May said the close cooperation between Britain and Japan was particularly important at a critical juncture, with the Democratic People's Republic of Korean provocation presenting an unprecedented threat to international security.

She said that Britain welcomed the commitment from Japanese companies to a long-term presence in Britain. Nissan, Toyota and Softbank in particular have made commitments to the UK since the EU referendum, in a powerful vote of confidence in the long term strength of the UK economy.

The Daily Telegraph in London said comments made on the final day of May's visit by the Japanese prime minister reflected a sense of nervousness among Japanese chief executives about committing to long-term investment in Britain before it has struck a trade deal with the EU.