British warship docks in Tokyo as UK expands Asia presence

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TOKYO (AP) — A British warship docked in Tokyo on Friday as Britain seeks to expand its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The HMS Albion, which has been conducting maritime security and surveillance operations in the Pacific, is the second of three British warships being deployed to Asia this year. They are the first such deployments in several years.

"Our presence here is part of a much wider commitment of the Royal Navy to the Asia-Pacific in 2018," Capt. Tim Neild said at a welcome ceremony at Harumi Pier on Tokyo Bay.

Britain and Japan agreed last year to step up defense cooperation in the face of a growing threat from North Korea and China's efforts to bolster its claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Neild said that the British navy is committed to enforcing U.N. sanctions on North Korea and protecting a rules-based international system, a veiled reference to China's island-building activities. The waters are a major shipping lane for global trade, with 35 percent of Britain's trade passing through the Asia-Pacific, he said.

A senior Japanese officer welcomed Britain's increased commitment to the region including the enforcement of sanctions on North Korea.

"No single nation or navy alone can deal with all these issues today," said Vice Admiral Gojiro Watanabe of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, as the Japanese navy is known.

The Albion is an 18,500-ton amphibious assault ship that can launch landing craft into waters for a coastal attack. Neild said one of its major activities during its Asia tour will be a joint exercise with Japan later this month at a beach southwest of Tokyo.

The Japanese military, concerned about Chinese designs on some islands that both countries claim, is developing an amphibious brigade.

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