Senior Research Fellow, Asia Programme
Kiichi FujiwaraProfessor of International Politics, University of Tokyo

Substantial discrepancies in immediate strategic interests suggest that cooperation between the UK and Japan, if it is to take place, is likely to be modest in nature and should build on existing bilateral security accords.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with his British counterpart Theresa May in New York on 20 September 2016. Photo: Kyodo News/Getty Images.Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with his British counterpart Theresa May in New York on 20 September 2016. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • In the wake of the British vote in favour of Brexit, the UK is likely, over the next two years, to be so preoccupied with the logistical elements of its divorce from the EU that it will have little time, energy or ability to remain globally engaged.
  • The rise of populist, anti-elitist politics that was evident in the Brexit vote – which has been prominent across Europe, the United States and also parts of Asia – is a threat to regional and global order and is fostering nation-state rivalry at the expense of international cooperation.
  • Japan, under Prime Minister Abe, has developed a more proactive and ambitious foreign policy that stands in contrast to the more inwardly focused approach that is likely under Prime Minister May.
  • Japan and the UK are likely to continue to promote their bilateral relationship, with Japan especially concerned to ensure that existing trade and investment interests for Japanese firms in the UK are not materially affected by the Brexit vote.
  • While the need for strategic partnership between the UK and Japan remains as pressing as ever, the opportunities for bilateral cooperation in addressing critical regional and global challenges are likely to be modest and focused on sustaining existing bilateral security accords.