TOKYO (Reuters) - Britain and Japan said on Thursday they would cooperate in countering the threat posed by North Korea, two days after it fired a missile over northern Japan, and will call on China to exert its leverage.
Prime Minister Theresa May, looking to strengthen relations with one of her closest allies ahead of Brexit, is visiting Japan as it responds to an increasing military threat.
Terming North Korea’s missile programme “a global threat”, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a news conference that Japan and Britain would cooperate.
“It is very meaningful that Prime Minister May and I agreed to further strengthen pressure on North Korea and to call on China to play a larger role,” he added.
May agreed, noting that China, North Korea’s lone major ally, had been involved in U.N. Security Council debate earlier this week.
“China does have a particular position in this, they have leverage on North Korea and I believe we should be encouraging China to exercise that leverage to do what we all want - which is to ensure that North Korea is not conducting these illegal acts.”
May toured Japan’s flagship Izumo helicopter carrier for a military briefing with Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera before attending a national security meeting.
May and Abe agreed on a joint declaration on security cooperation, including plans for British soldiers to take part in military exercises on Japanese soil and for collaboration to address the threat of cyber and militant attacks when Japan hosts the Olympics in 2020.
North Korea featured heavily in the talks after it launched a ballistic missile on Tuesday that passed over Japanese territory, prompting international condemnation.
May’s office had said the two leaders were expected to discuss the possibility of further sanctions on North Korea, but neither Abe nor May touched on the issue at the news conference.
The Global Times, a publication of the official People’s Daily of China’s ruling Communist Party, criticised an earlier comment of May’s comment calling for more pressure from China.
“Beijing does not need London to teach it how to deal with North Korea,” the newspaper said.
Asked about the United States, Japan and Britain looking to impose new sanctions on North Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the situation could only be resolved peacefully through dialogue.
“We think it is regrettable that some countries selectively overlook the relevant Security Council resolutions’ demand to advance dialogue, and stubbornly emphasise pressure and sanctions,” she told a daily news briefing.
Apart from security, May’s trip has focused on trade and investment. She is keen to convince nervy investors that Britain’s exit from the European Union will not make it a less attractive business partner.
Both May and Abe addressed a delegation of British business leaders and senior representatives from major Japanese investors in Britain, such as carmakers Nissan, Toyota and conglomerate Hitachi.
Abe told the gathering that May had assured him Britain’s negotiations on leaving the European Union would be transparent.
May said Japanese investment after Britain’s vote to leave the EU was a vote of confidence and she pledged to build close trade ties with Japan.
“I very much welcome the commitment from Japanese companies such as Nissan, Toyota, Softbank and Hitachi,” May said.
“I am determined that we will seize the opportunity to become an ever more outward-looking global Britain, deepening our trade relations with old friends and new allies.”
During a two-hour train ride between Kyoto and Tokyo late on Wednesday, the two leaders discussed Brexit, with May talking Abe through the details of a series of papers published in recent weeks setting out her negotiating position.
May said on Wednesday Japan’s upcoming trade deal with the EU could offer a template for a future Japan-Britain trade agreement, the latest attempt to show investors that Brexit will not lead to an overnight change in business conditions.
Japan has been unusually open about its concerns over Brexit, worrying that 40 billion pounds of Japanese investment in the British economy could suffer if trading conditions change abruptly when Britain leaves the bloc.
Additional reporting by Tim Kelly, Elaine Lies, Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Takashi Umekawa, and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie