Japan and Britain are considering signing a bilateral status-of-forces agreement in order to beef up joint drills between Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and British military, sources close to the development said.
Signing of a status-of- forces accord would help both Japanese and British governments clarify legal procedures for dealing with crimes and accidents involving military personnel of the two countries while facilitating troop operations.
The two countries are expected to sign a bilateral status-of-forces pact at an early date at a so-called "two-plus-two" meeting between foreign and defence ministers to be held in the UK sometime this year.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his British counterpart Theresa May had released a joint declaration on security cooperation on at a joint news conference after a summit meeting on 31 August.
"Britain is an important player in security in the Asia-Pacific region. Our two countries will work more closely in joint drills, defense equipment, technological cooperation and assistance in capacity building efforts," Abe said.
Later, the two countries plan to expand bilateral exercises to multilateral exercises involving forces of like-minded countries.
Japan regards Britain as a "quasi-ally," and the SDF and British forces can conduct joint drills in Japan even without an accord. But, if clear rules are enforced, it will facilitate troop operations, according to the Japanese foreign ministry.
Japan has been strengthening bilateral cooperation with British forces mainly over security in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. The first such exercise between Japan's Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF) and Royal Air Force was held at the ASDF Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture in October and November 2016 and, in August this year, the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement between Japan and Britain, which provides for a framework for mutual use of equipment and supplies, came into force.
In addition, the SDF and British forces plan to hold joint exercise in Japan in December 2018.
Japan and the United States have a status-of-forces agreement providing for the legal status of US servicemen stationed in Japan, their families and civilian employees working at US bases in Japan, among other matters. Japan is also holding talks with Australia on conclusion of a similar accord.