Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid a visit to Australia on 21-23 October. After their meeting, PM Kishida and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese issued the Australia-Japan Leaders’ Meeting Joint Statement and signed the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.
... the emphasis has shifted from building relations with the US to strengthening relations with other allies.
Japan-Australia relations was already considered a “quasi-alliance” with the forging of the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in 2007 and the Special Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century in 2014, but with this new joint statement and joint declaration, it can be argued that relations have moved to a new level. In terms of the Kishida administration’s foreign policy, this also suggests that the emphasis has shifted from building relations with the US to strengthening relations with other allies.
‘Quasi-alliance’ with China in mind
In the joint statement’s section on security and defence cooperation, Prime Minister Kishida “stated his determination to fundamentally reinforce Japan’s defence capabilities within the next five years and secure substantial increase of its defence budget needed to effect it”, to which it was expressed that “Prime Minister Albanese strongly supported Prime Minister Kishida’s determination”. This is great determination shown by a Japanese prime minister.
Moreover, the leaders concretely decided to “continue to identify ways to enhance interoperability, including through expanding existing military exercises and training”, specifically stating that the Japanese “Self-Defense Forces will train and exercise in northern Australia to increase interoperability with the Australian Defence Force”, and also made it explicit that they will be “deepening bilateral collaboration in space, cyber, information sharing, and regional capacity-building”.
All of these statements were made with China in mind.
Moreover, although China was not mentioned, they stated “serious concerns about the situation in the East China Sea, which undermines regional peace and stability”. The two leaders also voiced “strong opposition to any destabilising or coercive unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo and increase tensions in the area”.
Also with regard to the South China Sea, they stated that they “strongly opposed any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion, including through the militarisation of disputed features”. Furthermore, “they recalled that the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal decision is final and legally binding on the parties to the dispute”.
All of these statements were made with China in mind. Also with regard to Taiwan, they “reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” Although the wording echoed a previous G7 statement, it was important as a show of interest.
... the strengthening of Japan-Australia relations will fundamentally be made with the relationship with the US in mind.
Anchored in relations with the US
In the case of the joint declaration, the leaders stated that they would maximise the potential of the “special strategic partnership” forged in 2014. What is interesting is that they specified the relationship with the US. Saying that “our bilateral partnership also reinforces our respective alliances with the United States that serve as critical pillars for our security, as well as for peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific”, they noted that the strengthening of Japan-Australia relations will fundamentally be made with the relationship with the US in mind.
In other words, the strengthening of Japan-Australia relations goes hand in hand with the strengthening of Japan-US and Australia-US relations. That is why they displayed a strong interest in the Indo-Pacific and especially the Pacific Ocean, Southeast Asia, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea. In particular, they gave ASEAN due consideration as they stated, “We will cooperate with ASEAN and support ASEAN centrality and the fundamental principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and its practical implementation.”
However, in the context of a Quad consisting of Japan, the US, Australia and India, a remaining challenge is that security cooperation with India has not been so strong for Japan, the US and Australia.
In response to these developments between Japan and Australia, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a reporter on 24 October: “The Asia-Pacific region does not need military blocs, still less groupings that could provoke bloc confrontation or stoke a new Cold War. People in the region will be on heightened alert and stand against any act that undermines regional peace and stability and hurts regional solidarity and cooperation.” Although neither the statement nor the declaration mentioned China by name, it would appear that geopolitical “competition” in the region is intensifying further.
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