Perizat RISBEK KIZI
Japan and Australia have signed a landmark defence agreement to strengthen defense ties, saying the accord would contribute to regional stability. On Thursday 6 January, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, ahead of a planned summit, signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement to promote joint exercises and disaster relief operations. The treaty sets a legal framework to simplify administrative procedures for the entry of troops into each other’s countries.
Japan and Australia share common security concerns
The long-anticipated deal has been worked on since 2014 and amounted to the most significant security pact that Japan has inked with another country since the 1960 Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. A stronger partnership with Australia aligns with Japan’s efforts to play a more active role in regional and global affairs. Japan has incrementally expanded its security policy for decades and in 2015 the Abe government reinterpreted the pacifist Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, passing new security laws that expanded Japan’s Self Defence Forces’ range of activities, including participation in collective self-defense to support its allies. In this sense, it can be said that the “quasi-alliance” between Japan and Australia has blossomed in recent years against the backdrop of common concerns about the heightened geopolitical tensions and rising competition in the Indo-Pacific.
Is the agreement related to China?
While Beijing is not directly mentioned in a statement released ahead of the signing, many experts see the agreement between Australia and Japan as another move by regional allies, which is based on China’s growing economic and military influence. For example, Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy, said the agreement recognizes the importance of building strong defense partnerships that are primarily aimed at containing Chinese clout.
China: Pacific is not a place to make waves
China responded on Wednesday, before the agreement was signed, saying that bilateral treaties should promote regional trust, peace and stability. “It should not target or harm any third party interests,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said when were asked about the treaty at a daily news briefing.
“The Pacific Ocean is vast enough for the common development of countries in the region. Along the same line, peace and stability in the Pacific depends on the joint efforts of countries in the region. We hope that the Pacific will be an ocean of peace, not a place to make waves,” he added.
Agreement could further fuel competition between China and its US-led allies
In a joint statement released after Thursday’s ceremony, Kishida and Morrison said they welcomed a US commitment to close cooperation with allies in the region. Statement says that the two nations would reinforce their alliances with the US and looked forward to conducting a trilateral strategic dialogue. It is worth emphasizing here that against the background of China’s growing influence in the region, the United States and its allies are seeking to deepen their cooperation within the framework of the alliance’s strategy led by Washington.
However, Chinese observers warn that a “landmark” defense agreement between Japan and Australia could further fuel competition between China and its US-led allies and heighten concerns that countries in the region might be forced to take sides.