New strategic partnership . . .
The prime ministers of Japan and Australia signed the historic ‘Reciprocal Assessment Agreement’ late last week. The agreement allows faster deployment of troops between military facilities in the two countries while relaxing restrictions on weapons transportation. It will also facilitate joint training, naval war games and aviation exercises, and disaster relief operations. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that the treaty will, “for the first time, provide a clear framework for enhanced interoperability and co-operation between our two forces.” The pact is the latest in a string of moves analysts see as designed to offset China’s growing power in the region.
Tensions rising in the region . . .
The agreement is the first formal defence pact dealing with soldiers that Japan has signed since the historic 1960 Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. It also comes amid stricter controls over foreign civilians’ ability to enter Japan generally due to the country’s COVID-19 restrictions. Japan and Australia, along with the U.S. and India, are also members of a strategic dialogue known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, nicknamed 'the Quad,' which has conducted multilateral talks on issues ranging from the South China Sea to COVID-19. In 2021, Australia signed the AUKUS trilateral security pact with the U.S. and the U.K., under which those two countries pledged to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines. Analysts are already predicting that this latest agreement may further escalate tensions in the region.
Effects are unpredictable . . .
The pact could lessen the U.S. military’s regional footprint, opening the possibility of a more shared-security situation in the region. Some analysts predict that it could also serve as a model for countries such as the U.K. to exert more influence in the region through military force projection. And new Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s defence spending draft 2022-2023 budget includes record expenditures for the military. Analysts are warning, however, that the Australia-Japan agreement could add to an already escalating U.S.-China rivalry, with Chinese officials stating that the pact will contribute to further instability in the region. It is just as easy to understand that defence planning officials in Beijing feel this new pact is an overt attempt to contain China as it is to see that Western allies understand it as an incremental addition to alliance arrangements in the region.