Australia, Japan to sign ‘landmark’ defence pact

Australia and Japan will deepen security ties across the board including in intelligence and cyber security, to counter the full spectrum of China’s coercion, building on a new defence pact which officials say will send a message of deterrence to an aggressive Beijing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are expected to update the original, bilateral security treaty signed in 2007 to reflect the rapidly deteriorating security environment in the Indo-Pacific.

The original Joint Declaration on Security Co-operation covers terrorism, intelligence-sharing, maritime and aviation security, transnational crime and humanitarian relief.

But the agreement predates the emergence of President Xi Jinping, who has taken China down a more confrontational course, rapidly building up its navy and missile stocks and embracing so-called grey-zone tactics, which fall short of war.

These include militarising disputed islands in the South China Sea, intimidation of Taiwan, the use of trade as an economic weapon and harassing other countries’ fishing vessels in contested waters.

China has also embarked on an aggressive campaign of cyber attacks, something which with the passage of time is notably absent from the 2007 security agreement.

An updated security agreement is also likely to bolster intelligence sharing in light of Japan’s interest in joining the Five Eyes alliance.

Mr Morrison and Mr Kishida will hold a virtual summit on Thursday afternoon after the Japanese PM cancelled his planned visit to Sydney because of rising COVID-19 cases, and are expected to set in train a process to update the security declaration by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) will open the way for the two countries’ militaries to step-up joint training and hosting each other’s forces.

Japanese Ambassador to Australia Shingo Yamagami hailed the agreement. “This is a historic, landmark agreement. This will benefit the entire Indo-Pacific region because certainly, it will dramatically increase the deterrence in this region,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

“There is no question that both Japan and Australia have the United States as their closest ally. But this increased contact, close co-operation between Canberra and Tokyo is good for the region.

“Australia and Japan are two leading nations in realising a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“When it comes to contentious areas such as South China Sea or the East China Sea, Japan and Australia are living there. That’s why we have to play a leading role in this region upholding the rule of law.”

Japan’s second big defence deal

Mr Morrison said the agreement would open a new chapter in defence co-operation.

“Australia and Japan are the closest of friends,” he said.

“This treaty will be a statement of our two nations’ commitment to work together in meeting the shared strategic security challenges we face and to contribute to a secure and stable Indo-Pacific.”

The RAA is only the second major defence agreement Japan has struck with another country. The US was the first.

The agreement will see Japanese and Australian forces step up the frequency, scale and intensity of joint training exercises and activities, such as air-to-air refuelling.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute chief Peter Jennings said he expected the agreement to pave the way for Japanese aircraft to operate out of Darwin alongside the US Marine deployment, and use Australian bombing ranges for training.

Australian submarines were likely to operate from Japanese naval bases, he said.

Mr Jennings said the agreement had been “driven by China’s behaviour”, and would also show Washington that Australia and Japan were prepared to do their share of the heavy lifting militarily.

“We both realise that what we do is important for how the US thinks about its place in the region,” he said.

“If we demonstrate to the US we are not free-riding, that keeps them engaged in the region.”

There was a concern Australian troops could be exposed to Japan’s death penalty if they committed a serious crime while on deployment, but the agreement makes provision for both countries to consult on a case-by-case basis in such a situation.

Japanese officials believe ultimately it will not be an issue because Australian personnel will only be in the country for a short time and busy conducting military activities.

Mr Kishida and Mr Morrison will discuss economic issues during their summit, including China’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade pact, supply chains and critical minerals, artificial intelligence, infrastructure investment and climate change.

Hydrogen co-operation a ‘game changer’

Mr Yamagami said Japan shared Australia’s concerns over China’s use of trade to punish countries.

Australia has demanded China end its trade sanctions against $20 billion of exports before it will consider its membership.

“Economic coercion and unfair trade practices are not compatible with the CPTPP,” Mr Yamagami said.

“The CPTPP sets high standards both in terms of trade liberalisation and rules making. We need to maintain the high standards of the CPTPP.”

In contrast, the envoy said Taiwan’s application was welcome. “Taiwan has been at the forefront of liberalising trade”.

Mr Kishida’s visit was intended to highlight hydrogen co-operation. The first shipment of liquid hydrogen produced in the La Trobe Valley will be shipped to Japan later this month, which Mr Yamagami said people in decades to come would look back on and understand the significance of this event.

“To me this is a game-changer,” he said.

“There are various hurdles we have to overcome, like how to make the cost down, how to make it sustainable, but that said, the fact the first shipment will be undertaken this month says a lot and speaks volumes about how far we have come.

“This could be our answer to climate change too. Much has been debated but 2050 goals, net zero, but our two countries agree on the importance of innovation. Certainly, we are realising innovation in hydrogen.”


Article: Australian Financial Review, Andrew Tillet

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