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Home / Politics / News /  As China tensions smoulder, Japan and Australia move to sign defense treaty

Japan and Australia plan to sign a treaty on Thursday that will allow their militaries to work more closely together, in the latest example of US allies strengthening ties to counter the rising threat from China.

The treaty signing is a centerpiece of a virtual summit between Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison.

The agreement makes Australia the second country to have a formal defense pact with Japan covering entry of soldiers into Japan, after the US. As China increases its military might, Washington and its allies are deepening cooperation. At the core of that effort is a four-country group known as the Quad that also includes India and has stepped up joint military exercises in recent months, also bringing in European and other countries.

“Based on the principle of a free and open Indo-Pacific, I want to raise cooperation with the U.S., Australia and India and build close ties with their leaders through close consultations," Mr. Kishida said Tuesday.

Japan and Australia said in late 2020 they would seek to remove legal and administrative barriers to their militaries entering each other’s countries, allowing for more joint training and quick military support in a crisis.

The formal treaty means troops from one country can freely enter the other country for exercises, and vice versa, without having to negotiate terms each time.

Japan and the U.S. have a similar agreement, which allows American military personnel to travel directly in and out of U.S. bases in Japan without immigration or health screening. That arrangement has been in the spotlight in recent days because of clusters of Covid-19 infections at U.S. military bases in Japan, where the infection rate among the general population remains very low. U.S. military personnel are now required to have a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of travel to Japan and quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

Australia has been working to overhaul its military to create a larger, more powerful force and forge deeper ties with like-minded countries. In September, Australia created a new security partnership with the U.S. and U.K.—known as AUKUS—that Mr. Morrison said was a response to a worsening security environment in the Indo-Pacific region. Central to the AUKUS agreement is the sharing of nuclear-powered submarine technology.

Relations between Australia and China have worsened in recent years, after Australia made allegations of Chinese interference in its politics and banned Huawei Technologies Co. from involvement in its rollout of 5G telecommunications infrastructure.

In 2020, China imposed steep tariffs on Australian barley, suspended beef imports from some Australian slaughterhouses, and slapped antidumping tariffs on Australian wine, among other trade penalties, after Mr. Morrison called for an investigation into the origins of the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. labeled China’s pressure tactics as economic coercion.

Defense experts say Australia and Japan want to show they can play a larger role in deterring Beijing and, by doing so, keep the U.S. engaged in the Indo-Pacific.

Still, both countries are mindful that America’s commitment to the region could waver in future, said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a government-backed security think tank. If it did, then the Japan-Australia relationship would become more critical to maintaining security in the region, he said.

The treaty could result in significant numbers of Japanese defense personnel training with their Australian counterparts and U.S. Marines in Darwin, said Mr. Jennings.

“We will definitely see a lift in cooperation both in scale and speed quite quickly, and that does just reflect the times we are in," he said.

Mr. Morrison said cooperation with Japan includes a broader agenda for the Quad, which China has dismissed as a small clique harboring a Cold War mentality.

At the virtual summit, the leaders of Japan and Australia will also look at ways to deepen government and business collaboration on clean energy as well as critical materials and technologies, Mr. Morrison said.

 

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