(Adds comment from business forum in Tokyo)
By William James
TOKYO, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Britain and Japan will pledge closer cooperation on Thursday on defence, cyber security and counter-terrorism as Prime Minster Theresa May looks to strengthen relations with one of her closest allies ahead of Brexit.
Visiting her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, as his country responds to the increasing military threat posed by North Korea, May toured Japan’s flagship Izumo helicopter carrier for a military briefing with Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera before attending a national security meeting.
“My visit today is a sign of the growing cooperation and partnership we have on defence matters,” May told Onodera after inspecting an honour guard at the Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo, which is also home to the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan.
May and Abe will agree 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 is expected to feature heavily in the talks after it launched a ballistic missile on Tuesday that passed over Japanese territory, prompting international condemnation.
The two leaders are expected to discuss the possibility of further sanctions on North Korea, May’s office said. May called on China to put more pressure on North Korea after she arrived in Japan on Wednesday.
The Global Times, a publication of the official People’s Daily of China’s ruling Communist Party, criticised May’s comment.
“Beijing does not need London to teach it how to deal with North Korea,” the newspaper said.
Following the security briefing, the focus of May’s trip is expected to return to trade and investment. She is keen to persuade 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 travelling 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 (EU) would be transparent.
“The U.K.’s departure from the European Union has to be successful,” Abe said.
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.
Formal trade discussions are scheduled for later on Thursday, after which the leaders will hold a news conference.
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 ($51.68 billion) of Japanese investment in the British economy could suffer if trading conditions change abruptly when Britain leaves the bloc. ($1=0.7740 pounds) (Reporting by William James Editing; Additional reporting by Tim Kelly and Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)