Japan, Australia sign defense cooperation pact amid China's rise

Kyodo News

Posted at Jan 06 2022 04:59 PM

Fumio Kishida Scott Morrison compo
File photo of then Japan Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, taken in November 2015, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on August 24, 2018. Courtesy of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs/David Gray, Reuters.

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Thursday signed a treaty to facilitate joint exercises as they vowed in a virtual meeting to strengthen security cooperation amid China's growing military influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement will facilitate faster deployment of Japanese Self-Defense Forces and Australian Defense Force personnel and ease restrictions on the transportation of weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief operations.

"This is a landmark agreement that will bring Japan-Australia security cooperation to a new level," said Kishida in signing the agreement.

Morrison said the pact will enable the two countries to cooperate at a high level.

Australia is the second country with which Japan has concluded such an accord after the United States.

Japan will also seek to reach such a pact with Britain, with which Japan launched negotiations in October, and France as the two countries have been increasing defense cooperation with Tokyo in response to an increasingly assertive China.

Japan and Australia agreed to start talks on the RAA in 2014 and reached a broad agreement in November 2020, but Japan's death penalty system had been an obstacle in concluding the deal.

Australia, which has scrapped capital punishment and called for its abolition worldwide, initially asked for its military personnel to be exempted from the death penalty for crimes committed in Japan.

However, the two sides struck the deal as Australia increasingly sees Beijing as a security threat.

Tokyo and Canberra have agreed each country will retain jurisdiction when dispatching troops for joint missions, but the host country will have jurisdiction if personnel commit crimes while off duty.

The two countries will also launch a joint committee to discuss the details of how to implement the agreement, such as extradition of those involved in crimes.

China has ratcheted up economic pressure on Australia after Canberra pushed Beijing to investigate the origin of the novel coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, central China.

Japan and Australia are part of the Quad framework also involving the United States and India, and Kishida voiced eagerness to strengthen ties with the fellow democracies in his New Year press conference on Tuesday.

Kishida had been considering a visit to Australia in January to sign the agreement but abandoned the plan to focus on the COVID-19 response in Japan.