Japan and Australia seek to align on defence as China’s regional influence grows

Japanese PM Suga speaks to the media during a press conference in Jakarta

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to the media during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct 21, 2020. (Photo: Dita Alangkara/Pool via REUTERS)

16 Nov 2020 03:31PM CNA

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, may agree a historic defence pact on Tuesday (Nov 17) that will closely align two key US allies in Asia as a counter to China’s growing influence in the region.

Morrison arrives in Japan on Tuesday where security experts expect him to conclude a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) with Suga to establish a legal framework for each other’s troops to visit for training and to conduct joint military operations.

“There will be something to announce from the meeting,” a Japanese foreign ministry official told a media briefing, without elaborating.

A pact, which has taken six years to negotiate and would need to be ratified by lawmakers, would be the first such agreement for Japan since it signed a status of forces agreement in 1960 that allowed the United States to base warships, fighter jets and thousands of troops in and around Japan as part of a military alliance that Washington describes as the bedrock of regional security.

READ: India, US, Japan and Australia kick off large naval drills

In a call with Suga last Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden said his incoming administration was committed to maintaining that close partnership.Advertisement

Australian Prime Minister Morrison speaks during a joint press conference at Admiralty House in Syd
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference held with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, Feb 28, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Loren Elliott)

Tokyo and Canberra are seeking closer ties comes as they worry about Chinese activity in the region, including militarisation in the South China Sea, manoeuvres around disputed islands in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s growing sway over Pacific island nations further east.

READ: Japan should brace for ‘leaderless era’ as US turns inward, adviser to PM says

“It’s helpful for other nations to take a more active role in military activities and operations in the region, not least as the Americans are overstretched,” said Grant Newsham, a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.

To counter China, Suga last month visited Vietnam and Indonesia to bolster ties with key Southeast Asian allies. That followed a meeting in Tokyo of foreign ministers from the “Quad” an informal group of Japan, Australia, the United States and India.

China, which insists its intentions in the Asia-Pacific region are peaceful, described the Quad, as a “mini-NATO” aimed at containing it.

While Japan sees India as more hesitant to deepen ties, it has pushed for greater defence cooperation with Australia since a 2007 joint statement on cooperation.

READ: Asia-Pacific nations sign world’s largest trade pact RCEP

READ: Signing of RCEP agreement ‘the bright spot’ in a challenging year: Chan Chun Sing

In 2013, Japan and Australia also agreed to share military supplies, which was broadened in 2017 to include munitions.

Although Japan renounced the right to wage war after World War Two, its Self Defense Forces are one of Asia’s biggest and most modern militaries, with stealth fighters, helicopter carriers, submarines and recently formed amphibious units that the US Marine Corp helped train.

The Australia too is a significant regional military power, with a carrier-borne amphibious force it can dispatch on overseas missions.
Source: Reuters/kv

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