The Yomiuri ShimbunSecurity cooperation built up by Japan and Australia should be steadily linked to the stability of Asia.
The Japanese and Australian governments held a meeting of their foreign and defense ministers — the so-called two-plus-two talks — in Sydney. With an eye toward China, a country beefing up its maritime presence, both sides agreed to promote the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” and released a joint statement.
It is important that in the statement the two countries expressed their “opposition to any actions that could escalate tensions in the region.”
China has been unilaterally setting up military footholds in the South China Sea, raising tensions with its neighboring countries. In order to consolidate “freedom of navigation” and “the rule of law,” it is vital for the international community as one to urge China to exercise self-restraint.
It is important for the Self-Defense Forces to strive to enhance capability in such operations as vigilance and surveillance by working together with the U.S. and Australian forces, and repeating joint drills with Southeast Asian nations. Japan must pursue multilayered security cooperation with these nations, including exchanges between those in uniform.
During the Japan-Australia defense ministerial meeting, both sides agreed to accelerate the negotiations over a “visiting forces agreement,” which will enable both the SDF and the Australian forces to smoothly carry out joint drills in each other’s countries. By lessening burdens that would accompany such exercises, flexible operation of the units will be made possible.
Expand ties in other areas
The defense ministers of both countries also agreed on conducting the first-ever fighter jet exercise — to be taken part in by the Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force — in Japan next year.
The Japan-Australia two-plus-two talks started in 2007. The latest meeting was the eighth to be held.
Both countries are allied with the United States. Although Japan and Australia have no obligation to defend each other, they have built a solid relationship corresponding to that of allied nations.
Security order in Asia and the Pacific region has been maintained under U.S. leadership. But the foreign policy pursued by U.S. President Donald Trump, who puts the economy of his country first, differs from that of previous U.S. administrations, which placed importance on the country’s allies.
The necessity for Japan and Australia to broaden their cooperation with each other in the sphere of security, and deepen their connections, has grown further.
In Australia, a new administration led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison was inaugurated in August.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to visit Australia next month and hold a summit meeting with Morrison. Abe should reconfirm with the Morrison Cabinet that the partnership between Japan and Australia is firm.
The two-plus-two joint statement incorporates recognition of the importance of an early entry into force of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord, signed by 11 countries, including Japan and Australia. This trade pact is indispensable for the promotion of a free and open trade system.
For the pact to come into force, it must be ratified by at least six countries. Only Japan, Mexico and Singapore have completed their relevant procedures. Abe must make approaches to other countries participating in the accord, including Australia, to ratify it soon.