Japan and Australia inked a “landmark” defence deal on Thursday, saying the agreement would help to regional stability as China’s military and economic influence grows.
While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not specifically reference Beijing in his statement prior to the signing, the agreement is considered as another effort by regional partners to express worry about China’s military ambitions.
Morrison termed the pact “a statement of two nations’ resolve to work together in solving the shared strategic security issues we confront and to contribute to a secure and stable Indo-Pacific” ahead of his online summit with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida on Thursday.
“This historic pact will offer a clear framework for increased interoperability and cooperation between our two forces for the first time,” Morrison said.
He went on to say that the alliance reflected “our shared values, dedication to democracy and human rights, and mutual interests in a free, open, and resilient Indo-Pacific.”
The “Quad” organisation, which includes Japan, Australia, the United States, and India, has tried to form an alliance in the face of China’s growing presence across Asia, including threats to important international sea routes.
The treaty, according to Ali Wyne, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group, might improve Tokyo and Canberra’s capacity to conduct joint military drills in Japan with the US.
He told AFP that agreement “goes a long way toward concretizing the forms of security cooperation between Japan and Australia.”
“China will almost certainly portray it as additional proof that advanced industrial democracies are attempting to stifle its revival,” Wyne continued, “despite Beijing’s own behaviour in recent years contributing significantly to its growing diplomatic alienation from those countries.”
“The Pacific Ocean is broad enough for the joint development of countries in the region,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said when questioned about the deal during a regular briefing on Wednesday.
“Rather than targeting or undermining the interests of any third party, state-to-state exchanges and cooperation should be helpful to building mutual understanding and confidence among countries in the region and protecting regional peace and stability,” he said.
“We want the Pacific to be a peaceful ocean, not a place where people cause waves.”
Japan’s defence spending has been gradually rising over the past decade, and the country’s draught budget for 2022-23 includes a new high for the military.
The regional security situation is growing “increasingly serious at an unprecedented speed,” according to Tokyo’s defence ministry, which cites China and North Korea as threats.
The Quad’s momentum, according to Wyne, is being bolstered by the pact signed on Thursday. The Quad convened its first in-person meeting in September in Washington.
In September, the US, the UK, and Australia announced the formation of AUKUS, a new alliance in which Australia will buy nuclear-powered submarines based on US technology.