Today, the UK is searching for its new role in the world after Brexit. Many people may feel abandoned by Europe. This can be a feeling similar to the one of many Japanese living next to a rising China. Nevertheless, these two nations, reborn in the 21st century, could play a key role in the global economy if they stand side by side.
Britain and Japan are two insular nations next to the western and eastern coasts of Eurasia. London and Tokyo, along with New York, are crucial global financial hubs and centers of the quaternary sector. Until recently, Sterling used to be world’s second currency and Yen formed a strong zone with the Asian Tigers. Although both economies already passed their zenith, they are still global technology leaders. Oxford and Cambridge are leading global universities and the Tokyo-Yokohama agglomeration with a population of 37 million is the world’s largest urban organism ever.
Both nations played important historical roles. Britain was a global hegemon in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cities of northern England were the cradle of industrial and transportation revolutions and London an unofficial global capital. Japan was a vanguard of industrial miniaturization and robotization after the WW2.
In the 1970’s, Japan and Britain became kind of “global vice-presidents” within the U.S. hegemony. Britain had been the coordinator of the Marshall Plan that later transformed to the OECD, a club of world’s most advanced countries. It became the main ally of the U.S. in military-political blocs such as NATO, CENTO and SEATO. In the 1980’s, many expected Japan to become a global hegemon for the 21st century.
With the emergence of two giant currencies, the Yuan and the Euro, also two new twin economic cores emerged: Chinese Shanghai/Hong kong and European Frankfurt/Paris. Nevertheless, Tokyo and London remained key financial centers of Asia and Europe.
This is their strength: whatever happens on the nearby continents, Tokyo and London are neutral, safe insular havens for finance and related services. Their strength is in proximity to dominant continental economies, EU on the western and China on the eastern edge of Eurasia. And also in their accessibility to other economies: London to the Arab World, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Tokyo to Korea, ASEAN while both together to Russia, India, Latin America and Africa.
Concerning current discussion on amending article 9 of Japanese constitution, a London-Tokyo alliance could become autonomous and influential worldwide. Being close allies to the U.S. as well as good neighbors of the EU and China, they can serve as a mild buffer between the US and those dominant continental powers.
Britain and Japan are complementary to each other. While Japan is the world’s third largest economy, Britain has a tremendously rich network of outposts around the globe consisting of current and former colonies.
In contemporary world where distances do not play key role anymore, a London-Tokyo alliance has a potential to form a real Global Quaternary Network (G4N). In order to protect against potential pressure from China and the EU, and to keep some level of autonomy from their key ally, the United States, they need to create some kind of political (and military) network. However, this requires an autonomous link around the globe. That can be achieved with help of the two largest Commonwealth Realms, Canada and Australia.
Canada is an autonomous continental link between Pacific Japan and Atlantic Britain. The second largest country and the 10th largest economy of the world is an important source of raw materials with powerful armed forces and excellent access to the Arctic region and northern Eurasia, including Russia. It still keeps some autonomy from its giant neighbor, the U.S.—in political and socio-cultural aspects.
Australia is a continent of its own, an economy comparable to Russia, Korea or Canada. It is a crucial access point for the Commonwealth to the Indian Ocean and southern Eurasia, including India. In the past century, it tried to solve issues of its identity concerning republicanism, farewell from the distant British monarchy, reinventing its Aborigine identity and flag. Its isolation in the southeastern corner of Eurasia, proximity to more powerful China and Japan and to a culturally distant ASEAN while not being too far from the U.S.
Regardless its potential republican identity, joining the G4N coordinated by London and Tokyo—but not commanded by Britain anymore could help to solve its identity dilemma. At the same time, Sydney, declining in the global hierarchy of metropoles, could upgrade to a financial hub of the Network towards the Indian Ocean and India—a similar role that London plays towards the Atlantic and the EU while Tokyo towards the Pacific and China. All of this, having equal relationship with Britain and being near to other allies such as Canada and Japan.
In northern Europe, two countries repeatedly refused EU membership: Norway and Iceland. They are strategically important NATO members. However, if the EU including Denmark and Sweden integrates more closely without them, G4N can provide a good framework for their security and political identity. The same applies to the Faroe Islands, in case they further keep distance from the EU and eventually become independent from Denmark. Not forgetting about the tiny British crown dependencies Man, Jersey and Guernsey.
In east Asia, Korea is a solitary nation having a size of Hungary but with a population of Spain. If united with the communist North, it would reach a population of 75 million—more than Britain. Currently, Korea has zero integration options. Compared to China, it is a dwarf while its rapprochement with Japan is impeded by historical resentment. Its integration with the distant ASEAN makes no sense. Its tripartite partnership with Beijing and Tokyo may become unstable as Beijing’s growing assertiveness may induce a retaliatory reaction from Tokyo. Sooner or later, Seoul will have to choose sides (as Ukraine did in 2014). Even with a nuclear status inherited from the communist North, it could be too weak. Korean membership in the G4N, where Britain and Canada serve as buffers and moderators towards Tokyo, could be an option.
Sri Lanka is the most important insular nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. While India is a natural hegemon of south Asia, Sri Lanka has repeatedly revolted against its interests. On one hand, Sri Lanka has close historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties with south Asia. On the other hand, it shares Therawadda Buddhist tradition with southeast Asian nations like Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. While current Hindu (India, Nepal) and Muslim (Pakistan, Bangladesh) identities are impediments in its south Asian identity, its geographic proximity to Indian subcontinent is a barrier in its southeast Asian identity. In a crisis of geopolitical identity and with its strategic position in the Indian Ocean, its connection to the G4N could be a key solution.
New Zealand reminds a geopolitical younger brother of Australia. It is a gate to the Pacific. With its size similar to Italy but population size of Ireland, its partnership with the G4N can be as advantageous as for Norway and Iceland.
In recent decades, Canada and Britain have implemented liberal policies in the self-rule of their ethno-territorial communities, including Scotland, Quebec, Wales and the Inuit regions. After Brexit, Scotland will likely head back to the EU. This is not the case of the others. G4N could be a good framework for Canada to afford luxury of possible independence of Quebec, without losing economic strength and security of either of them. This also applies to Wales in relation to Britain.
In the past decades, Greenland became an economic burden for Denmark. After the referendum in 1982, it left the proto-EU and in 2009 it achieved an ever broader autonomy. With area larger than ex-British India, it has an important strategic location between the Atlantic and the Arctic, between Europe and America, between Russia and Canada.
Its participation in the G4N could provide security for eventual independence of this sparsely populated Inuit nation with only 102 thousand inhabitants. Within the Network, Northern Ireland’s dual status as part of the UK with special relations to Republic of Ireland could also be a model for relationship of the Canadian Inuit regions—Nunavut federal territory, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut autonomous regions of Quebec and Newfoundland-Labrador—to the Inuit nation of Greenland.
In all oceans, Britain and its partners have a lot of current or former oversea territories that are important links for the Network. Just like London and Tokyo, many of them provide financial services to the whole world, including offshore financial centers. Although the fight on tax havens will intensify, they will still fulfill specific tasks.
In the Caribbean, Anguilla, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos are British territories while Jamaica, Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Guyana, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago are Commonwealth members.
In the Pacific, Pitcairn Islands is a British, Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau a New Zealandese, Norfolk an Australian and Bonin Islands a Japanese territory while Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Samoa and Tonga are Commonwealth members.
In the Indian Ocean, Chagos Islands are British while Coco Islands and Christmas Island are Australian territories. Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives are Commonwealth members.
In the Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda, Saint Helena, Falklands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are British territories while Svalbard and Jan Mayen are Norwegian ones.
G4N would also have an important presence in the two continental inner seas. In western Eurasia’s Mediterranean, British territory of Gibraltar on the Spanish coast controls the entrance from the Atlantic and the territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus controls the entrance from the Indian Ocean.
In eastern Eurasia’s South China Sea and surroundings, Singapore, a Commonwealth member, controls the Malacca Strait, one of its main entrances from the Indian Ocean. This city state plays a specific role. On one hand, it is an economic and financial hub and member of ASEAN. On the other hand, three quarters of its population are ethnic Chinese and it was expelled from the federal Malaysia in 1965 due to concerns of Chinese domination. Growing Chinese aggression against the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia in the South China Sea may stimulate the ASEAN members to a similar move against Singapore. In a situation of such geopolitical schizophrenia, Singapore’s identity can be well-defined within the G4N.
Powerful G7 members, Britain, Japan and Canada, could form the backbone of the G4N. Korea, a technology powerhouse, Norway and New Zealand, leading nations in foreign development aid, human rights and environment protection, and Australia, a main supplier of raw materials would form its body. Independent Commonwealth members and overseas territories in the global ocean, including Gibraltar and Singapore in continental inner seas, would form its nervous system. With a total population equal to that of the U.S. and an aggregate economic power exceeding two thirds of the U.S. GDP, members of such a network together would be a strong global power and a great ally of democracy.
Japan, Korea and Singapore being pivots to eastern while Britain, Norway and Gibraltar to western Eurasia, Australia with Sri Lanka to southern while Canada, together with Japan and Britain to northern Eurasia, and finally, Commonwealth members from the Caribbean and the Pacific together with Canada being pivots to Latin America: this would be a framework for a network of safe and neutral financial and service havens all around the globe and a new possible identity for the UK after Brexit as opposed to a status of regional power.