Organization for Regional and Inter-regional StudiesWaseda University


【Seminar report Sept. 10, 2019】Post(?)-Brexit: UK-Japan Relations

  • Date & Time
    Tuesday, 10 September, 2019 / 9:00~17:15
  • Venue
    University of Warwick
  • Language
  • Organizers
    JSPS Core-to-Core (C2C) Programme, A. Advanced Research Networks “The European Union and Japan in a Fluid Global Liberal Order: Establishing an Inter-Regional Studies Centre”,
    Waseda University ORIS, and University of Warwick


  • 09:00 – 10:45 Session 1: Overview
    Chaired by Paul Bacon
    Presenters: Chris Hughes, Victoria Tuke, Nicholas Peeters, Hide Nakamura, Fredrik Ponjaert
  • 11:15 – 12:45 Session 2: Politics & Security
    Chaired by Hide Nakamura
    Presenters: Paul Bacon, Atsuko Higashino, George Christou, Wilhelm Vosse, Daniela Serban
  • 13:45 – 15:15 Session 3: Economic & Regional Relations
    Chaired by Chris Hughes
    Presenters: Richard Whitman, Hartmut Mayer, Takao Suami, Yorizumi Watanabe, Fumi Gotoh
  • 15:45 – 17:15 Wrap up and next steps


On Tuesday 10 September, Waseda University organized a symposium in cooperation with the University of Warwick on “Post(?)-Brexit: UK-Japan Relations.” Professors and graduate students from both universities in addition to invited speakers from other European and Japanese institutions, including a representative from the civil service, convened in Coventry to discuss the possible impact of a Brexit on the future development of Anglo-Japanese relations. Aiming to stimulate debate across a wide range of dimensions, participants were asked to prepare a succinct presentation based on their own areas of specialization and interest with the remaining time left for critical discussions. The symposium consisted of three sessions of five speakers, each approaching an eventual UK departure from the EU from a specific angle, and concluded with an exchange of views on how to bring together the available expertise and proposals put forward.

The first session, “Overview,” not only aimed to review the current situation but also to reflect on the history of bilateral interactions between the UK and Japan. In the first presentation, Chris Hughes emphasized how Japan is given a prominent place in the (as of yet still ill-defined) ‘Global Britain’ discourse of the Brexiteers and, conversely, how the UK is seen as a key partner in Japan’s search of new foreign policy strategies. Yet when zooming in on particular issue areas, Hughes also showed how reality not always lives up to the rhetoric of policymakers. As head of the JSPS Core-to-Core (C2C) Project, Hidetoshi Nakamura explained how the Brexit was one of the central issues which inspired the project and proceeded to focus on the concept of ‘actorness’ as one of its main pillars. In particular, Nakamura expounded his thoughts on the theoretical development of the concept of the EU – or, in the event of a Brexit, Europe including the UK – as a ‘civilian power’ to a ‘security actor’ à la Ole Wæver and how this may also be a reference point for Japan as an international actor. Next, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office representative Victoria Tuke shared the views of the British government. By highlighting areas of cooperation ranging from politics, security and trade to research, culture, and education, she explained how the Brexit does not define the UK-Japan relationship. Nicholas Peeters infused the debate with a historical point of view by looking back at the Brexit in reverse or the UK’s early approach to the EU (then EEC) and its implications for Japan. Finally, Frederik Ponjaert concluded the session by assessing the UK-Japan relationship alongside four axes – relative certainties, preparedness, values, and trade – and argued that the relationship will remain second order to both countries’ relations with Brussels.

The five speakers in the following session approached the theme of the symposium from the viewpoint of “Politics & Security.” Broaching the subject, Paul Bacon started with critically interrogating Number 10’s vision for ‘Global Britain’ and related documents. In so doing, he put his finger on a series of problem points which remain unanswered in the official discourse while at the same time probing how the debate can be pinned down with academic concepts. Atsuko Higashino broadened the discussion by asking whether the UK and Japan are able to coordinate their respective policies vis-à-vis China. Studying the ups and downs, and similarities and differences, of London and Tokyo’s relations with Beijing, Higashino tentatively concluded that it is unlikely that a common approach will develop in the future but that the UK and Japan can nonetheless act ‘declaratory’ together. In his talk, George Christou poignantly questioned what the official discourse of the UK and Japan as like-minded states corresponds to in terms of security cooperation on the ground and continued to examine if shared interests can enable deeper cooperation in a post-Brexit scenario. Wilhelm Vosse, for his part, conceptualized the relationship between the UK and Japan as one of ‘secondary’ or ‘middle’ powers which are seeking to develop policies to resist their declining influence in the world. Noting an unavoidable decline in economic relations, Vosse made a compelling case that both parties can develop significant cooperation in global security, most notably in the fields of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Ending the second session, Daniela Serban pointed out another promising area of cooperation in the event of a post-Brexit scenario: international development and aid. Evaluating the international development agendas on both sides in recent years, Serban finds sufficient commonalities in the discursive visions of Tokyo and London which can form the base for enhanced future dialogue in these fields.

The last session, “Economic and Regional Relations,” commenced with a sketch by Richard Whitman of how the UK’s foreign, economic, security (and defense?) policies are in a state of flux. Emphasizing that this interregnum in external policies is compounded by a series of domestic contestations, Whitman subsequently gauged the implications of the UK being in transition on Anglo-Japanese relations. Next, Hartmut Mayer echoed that the UK-Japan relationship is an alliance of the weak dependent on regional and global elements. After expressing his views on the current place of Japan and the UK in their respective regions, Mayer discussed the likely and not so optimistic future direction of UK-Japan economic and security relations but also accentuated new frontiers of cooperation such as in Arctic affairs. The next speaker, Takao Suami, looked at the potential of trade and investment relations between the UK and Japan. Mainly focusing on the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) in which Japan already plays a leading role, Suami clearly outlined the advantages and disadvantages if the UK would join this scheme. Continuing to examine economic relations, Yorizumi Watanabe elaborated on a series of challenges for the UK and Japan in the shadow of the EU-Japan EPA. In line with the saying ‘devils dwell in the detail,’ he looked at a number of pre-emptive measures both sides should consider including an interim tariff schedule, agricultural market access, an investor-state dispute settlement, and rules of origin. In the last talk of the day, Fumi Gotoh touched on the historic and social reasons which have given rise to different industrial structures in the UK and Japan. He then moved on to discuss the significance of service trade for the UK, and the growing importance of FinTech industries in particular, while contrasting it to the lagging international competitiveness of Japan in this field.

The presentations and discussions were followed by a “wrap up” session during which it was found that there was sufficient material and interest to continue developing the ideas put forward by the participants. As for the next steps, the group not only agreed to convene again in the near future but also to explore working towards joint publications and joint research projects.


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