Australia, Japan to strengthen defense ties amid PRC’s attempts at influence

Australia, Japan to strengthen defense ties amid PRC’s attempts at influence

The Associated Press

The leaders of Australia and Japan have reached a basic agreement on a bilateral defense pact that would allow their troops to work more closely, as the two U.S. allies seek to bolster their ties to counter the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart, Yoshihide Suga, said the legal framework, called a Reciprocal Access Agreement, would allow their troops to visit each other’s countries for training and joint operations. It would also enhance interoperability and cooperation, they said during in-person talks in mid-November 2020. (Pictured: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, right, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speak during a signing ceremony at Suga’s official residence in Tokyo on November 17, 2020.)

The deal is the first of its kind for Japan since its 1960 status of forces agreement with the United States, which set the terms for the basing of about 50,000 American troops to operate in and around Japan under the Japan-U.S. security pact.

Morrison called the defense agreement a “landmark” development for the two countries, which are U.S. allies while maintaining significant trade with the PRC. Australia and Japan have strong and positive relations with all countries in the Indo-Pacific, he said.

Japan is committed to deepening its 60-year-old alliance with the U.S. as the cornerstone of its diplomacy and security but has in recent years sought to complement its regional defense by stepping up cooperation with others, especially Australia, amid growing PRC maritime activity.

Japan officially limits itself to self-defense and bans first strikes under its post-World War II pacifist constitution. However, Japan increased its defense role and spending under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe pushed for greater military cooperation and weapons compatibility with the U.S. as Japanese forces increasingly work alongside U.S. troops. He also increased purchases of American stealth fighters and other weapons.

Suga, who took office in September 2020 after Abe resigned due to ill health, is continuing his predecessor’s diplomatic and security policies.

Japan considers Australia to be a semi-ally and the two countries signed a defense cooperation agreement in 2007, Japan’s first with a country other than the U.S. The two nations agreed on the sharing of military supplies in 2013 and expanded the deal in 2017 to include munitions after Japan eased restrictions on arms equipment transfers.

Suga said Japan and Australia are “special strategic partners” committed to fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and are working together to achieve peace and stability in the region.