Australia, Japan Agree to Historical Defence Pact

PM Morrison’s fruitful 24 hours in Tokyo . . . 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison concluded his one-day state visit to Japan yesterday, his first since the COVID-19 outbreak began. The visit was significant for Japanese Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga as it was his first time receiving a national leader as Japan’s Prime Minister. Discussions between the two touched on a range of issues, including a potential ‘travel bubble’ and Australian exports of clean energy to Japan – including LNG and hydrogen. But most importantly, Morrison and Suga announced they have agreed “in principle” on a highly-anticipated defence accord. After Tokyo ratifies it, the agreement is expected to be formally signed during Suga’s planned official visit to Australia in 2021.

Historic defence agreement between two US allies . . .

While Australian and Japanese defence forces have enjoyed close ties for almost 30 years, the new Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) allows forces from one to station and train in the other’s territory. The move will enhance co-operation and integration between the two important U.S. allies and is the latest in a series of bilateral pacts, the most notable of which is one signed in October that added Australia to Japan’s collective self-defence umbrella. The RAA is the first agreement of its kind that Japan’s Self Defence Force has established since it signed the Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. in 1960.

A move to contain China?

The pact is seen widely as Australia and Japan’s joint effort to contain China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region, and China’s official outlets responded almost immediately. The state-run Global Times labelled the pact as “confrontational.” While Morrison reaffirmed the two countries’ concern about “recent negative developments . . . in the South China Sea” in the official statement announcing the RAA, he also made it clear that the agreement was reached to “add to the stability of the region.” He added that neither Canberra nor Tokyo see Beijing as a “strategic competitor,” seemingly looking to strike a balance as Sino-Australia relations continue to sour.