WASHINGTON Dec 1 British fighter planes
visiting Japan will fly over the South China Sea and Britain
will sail aircraft carriers in the Pacific once they are
operational in 2020, given concerns about freedom of navigation
there, Britain's ambassador to the United States said on
The envoy, Kim Darroch, told a Washington think tank that
British Typhoon aircraft currently deployed on a visit to Japan
would fly across disputed parts of the South China Sea to assert
international overflight rights, but gave no time frame.
Speaking at an event also attended by Japan's ambassador to
Washington, Darroch said that most future British defense
capacity would have to be directed toward the Middle East, but
"Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers
onstream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defense forces,
they will be seen in the Pacific.
"And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S.
administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of
navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open."
In spite of Britain's preoccupations in the Middle East, "we
will try to play our part" in the Pacific, he said.
Four British fighter planes arrived in Japan in October to
take part in exercises with Japanese forces at a time of rising
tensions over China's pursuit of disputed territory in East
Asia, including the South and East China Seas.
Japan's ambassador, Kenichiro Sasae, said the United States,
Japan and Britain discussed greater naval cooperation at a
meeting at the Pentagon in October and Tokyo welcomed greater
British involvement in Asian security.
Darroch said British Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S.
President-elect Donald Trump discussed the importance of all
NATO members meeting their defense spending commitments in a
telephone call this week, their second since Trump's Nov. 8
Darroch said all NATO states had committed to spending at
least 2 percent of GDP on defense, yet only five, including the
United States and Britain, were doing so.
"I think the criticism ... during this election campaign
that a number of NATO countries aren't doing everything they can
... is entirely fair and we will see how the incoming
administration wants to take that forward," he said.
Trump has criticized European NATO members for not meeting
their spending commitments and has also called on U.S. Asian
allies Japan and South Korea to pay more for their defense or
risk the alliances.
Trump has said he plans to build up the U.S. military, and
advisers have said he will pursue a policy of "peace through
strength" in the Pacific in the face of China'a growing
The advisers say Trump can also be expected to take a more
"robust" approach to naval operations to assert navigation
rights in the South China Sea, a vital global trade route.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)