Reciprocal Access Agreement

Japan, Australia to sign defense pact that might irk China

Japanese honor guards hold the Australia (L) and Japan flag for the welcoming ceremony of visiting Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Tokyo on April 7, 2014. Photographer: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

(Bloomberg) --Australia and Japan will sign a “historic” treaty that will further strengthen defense and security cooperation during a virtual leaders’ summit on Thursday, in a move that could further inflame tensions with China.

The agreement is the first of its type for Japan, other than with the U.S. and the UN, and marks a step closer in a relationship that is often referred to as a “quasi alliance.”

The signing of a Reciprocal Access Agreement will underpin greater and more complex practical engagement between the Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defence Force, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in an emailed statement. The pact will provide a clear framework for enhanced interoperability and cooperation, he added.

“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,” Morrison said.

Under Morrison’s watch, Australia’s relations with China — its largest trading partner — have nosedived in the wake of his government’s call in 2020 for independent investigators to enter Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus. Beijing inflicted a range of trade reprisals, including crippling tariffs on Australian barley and wine, while blocking coal shipments.

Japan’s ties with China have also turned chilly over Beijing’s clampdown on Hong Kong and concerns are growing about tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

“We share with Australia the basic values of freedom and democracy,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Wednesday. The two leaders plan to discuss matters of mutual concern at their virtual meeting, including national security, the economy and regional affairs, in a bid to strengthen bilateral ties and cooperation toward a free and open Indo-Pacific, he added.

Agreements between countries should promote peace and “not target any third parties,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“The Pacific is vast enough, there’s enough room for shared development for all,” he said, adding that China hoped people would not be “stirring up trouble” in the region.

Japan and Australia had reached a basic agreement on the RAA in 2020 and had faced stumbling blocks, including concern that Australian troops found guilty of serious crimes could be subject to the death penalty in Japan.

Australia also signed a strategic defense pact last year with U.K. and the U.S. that will enable the country to build nuclear-powered submarines, a move that China said would fuel an arms race in the region.

Cooperation under the new Australia-Japan pact also includes an expanding agenda for the Quad with India and the U.S., and shared technology-led approach to reducing carbon emissions, Morrison said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday he had been seeking an in-person summit with Morrison, but had set the plan aside in order to focus on dealing with the latest surge in virus cases.

By Jason Scott
Jan 5, 2022, 2:45 AM – Updated on Jan 5, 2022, 9:59 AM
Word Count: 490

–With assistance from Isabel Reynolds and Philip Glamann.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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