Japan deal to counter China rise
DARWIN STRATEGY FOR TOKYO’S MILITARY
Japan’s military could conduct exercises out of Darwin under a historic defence agreement being negotiated by Malcolm Turnbull and Shinzo Abe, as part of a multipronged strategy to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
The wide-ranging agreement, which will also allow military equipment and ammunition to be transported far more easily between the countries, will be progressed during the Prime Minister’s trip to Tokyo next week, as Australia faces a growing row with China over government criticism of Beijing’s Pacific aid.
After official Chinese media branded Australia an “arrogant overlord’’ in the Pacific this week, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi yesterday added to the diplomatic storm, saying he was shocked by International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ public criticism of China’s Pacific aid and demanded a formal apology from Canberra.
“I think she should apologise — and apologise very soon to stop the further damage in the relationship between Australia and Pacific leaders,” Mr Tuilaepa told The Weekend Australian.
Mr Turnbull will arrive in Tokyo on Thursday to meet the Japanese Prime Minister, who has been keen to amend his country’s post-World War II constitution to give the military a more legitimate role on the world stage.
Australia and Japan have championed building up regional alliances — such as the revived Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Japan, India, the US and Australia — in the face of China’s increasing dominance in the region.
Mr Turnbull has said he and Mr Abe will discuss a new visiting
forces agreement, a type of arrangement that Japan has with one other country — the US.
“We are working to formalise this in our reciprocal access agreement that will further enhance our defence interoperability,” the Prime Minister said in a statement.
The Weekend Australian understands the deal is expected to be signed this year, and that the move would pave the way for the Japanese Self-Defence Force troops to train in Australia.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute head Peter Jennings said he expected the deal would allow for Japanese forces to conduct exercises in Australia.
He said the deal would also cement Australia as Japan’s No 2 security partner.
“The service that we’re probably least close to is the Self-Defence Force army, and that’s partly a result of Japan’s own historical constraints on sending their forces abroad for co-operation,” Mr Jennings said.
“So I’d expect there’d be an opportunity for more army engagement, including, ironically enough, perhaps out at Darwin,
maybe doing trilateral activities with the US marines there.”
In the largest single attack mounted by a foreign power on Australia, Japanese fighters and bombers attacked Darwin port, killing 252 Allied personnel and civilians, on February 19, 1942.
In establishing the legal status of Australian forces when they visit Japan or vice versa, it would simplify landing rights for aircraft and ships, access to fuel and establish how misconduct cases inside each military are dealt with while abroad.
“Instead of it being quite a production to ensure landing rights for the RAAF aircraft to visit a base, it’s just going to become a much more routine thing,” Mr Jennings said.
Maritime friction between China and Japan remained high this week after a Chinese frigate sailed near the disputed Senkaku, or Diaoyu, islands in the East China Sea.
Australia, Japan and the US sent a strong message about the strength of their alliance at a meeting between Mr Turnbull, Mr Abe and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in The Philippines in November.
The Australian government also launched a program to counter foreign interference last year, which is now seen by some Western democracies as a leading example in dealing with covert activities by the Chinese government. The Washington Post has reported that a US National Security Council interagency group probe into “the grey area” of Chinese covert influence was catalysed by the Australian government’s warnings on the issue.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the missile crisis on the Korean peninsula will also be on the agenda at the Turnbull-Abe talks.
“Japan is at the frontline of the North Korea nuclear threat,” Mr Turnbull said. “The international community, and particularly partners in Asia, must work together to maximise pressure on North Korea and effectively implement UN Security Council sanctions against the regime.”
A foreign minister-level meeting including Australia, convened by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada’s Chrystia Freeland, will be held in Vancouver on Friday but China looks unlikely to attend.
Australia’s relation with the communist country have become rocky again after Senator Fierravanti-Wells accused China of lending funds to Pacific nations on unfavourable terms, constructing “useless buildings” and “duchessing” local politicians.
Mr Tuilaepa, whose nation has taken on loans from Beijing, said the comments would harm relations with Pacific leaders.
“It’s unfortunate that the development minister should say those comments which are extremely insulting to the intelligence, integrity and wisdom of all of us — the leaders of the Pacific Island nations — who know our own backyard better than anyone else,” Mr Tuilaepa said.
“It would certainly harm the excellent relationship that we have with Australia, between the Pacific leaders.”
He said all the projects China had funded in Samoa were on the request of Samoan leaders and China provided assistance where Australia did not.
“I think she should compliment the Chinese for coming in to complement what is provided by Australia,” he said.