The newly appointed ambassadors from Japan to Australia envy their counterparts: “It is great to be appointed in a country where there are no real problems to be resolved,” they often say. The same is true for their Australian counterparts in Japan.
This might change. Like the Japanese ambassador to the United States and their US counterparts, the Japanese and Australian ambassadors must have an important task to strengthen strategic cooperation on matters important to national security.
Japan and Australia do not have the same type of treaty alliance as Japan and the US. However, it seems that the Japan-Australia relationship will develop into an alliance in substance if it is not in name. The context for this transformation is an increasingly harsh international environment.
China is seeking to undermine the US-led international order, and particularly the US alliance, which it sees as “a relic of the Cold War era.” China may not hesitate to use its economic power and market size as levers to impose economic sanctions if it deems necessary.
In addition, the gaping social and political divisions prevented the US, an ally of Japan and Australia, from fulfilling its role as a global leader. Although the Biden administration has proclaimed a renewed emphasis on alliances and greater participation in Asian affairs, trade policy and human rights issues may hinder its attempts to re-engage with Asia.
First, it will be difficult for the US to join a multilateral free trade agreement like the CPTPP, given opposition from unions within the Democratic Party’s support base. Second, deviating from the Trump administration’s indifference to human rights abuses, the Biden administration fiercely advocates for human rights issues – but risks provoking backlash among Asian nations if it pursues its goals in the wrong way.
Japan and Australia both fear the US will abandon its external commitments to focus on domestic issues, undermining its international credibility and deterrence. It is increasingly important that Japan and Australia join forces to pressure the US to engage more deeply with Asia, strengthen its deterrence capabilities, and create a free and open international order in the Indo-Pacific.
There are also growing calls for a stronger Japan-Australia alliance from within ASEAN.
Last month I attended a private conference of foreign policy experts from key US and Asian allies. During this conference, a veteran ASEAN diplomat stated: “Currently, Japan and Australia are ASEAN’s two most important dialogue partners … These two countries are deeply committed to a rules-based, multilateral regional architecture.” He added, “Even as we push for the Biden administration to re-engage with Asia, we hope [Japan and Australia] remains very high. “
When Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Japan last November, he and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reached an agreement on the general framework for a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). The RAA defines the legal status of the Japanese and Australian armed forces operating in their respective countries, including matters of criminal jurisdiction.
Although Japan’s continued use of the death penalty (and the question of whether Australian troops could face the death penalty if convicted of serious crimes in Japan) were pivotal points in negotiations, the two sides ended up making the concessions needed to overcome these hurdles. operational level. If the RAA agreement can be concluded, it will significantly increase the interoperability of the Japanese and Australian armed forces.
Japan and Australia have concluded the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and agreements on the transfer of defense equipment and technology. The foreign and defense ministers of the two countries are also involved in the two plus two dialogue.
During Abe’s rule, Japan established a legal basis for responding to requests from its allies to exercise (albeit in limited ways) collective self-defense. In his reply before parliament, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe implied that Japan would defend not only the US, but also Australia, in the event of a crisis.
However, the Japan-Australia relationship is far from being a true alliance. Australians view the pace of Japanese policy making as too slow. I have often heard resentment expressed about the fact that it took Japan and Australia six years to reach agreement on a general framework for the RAA.
There is also the issue of intelligence cooperation. Australia has supported Japan’s inclusion in the “Five Eyes” (an alliance between US, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand intelligence services), but feels that Japan’s “intelligence culture” needs reform.
Particular attention includes the professionalism and English proficiency of Japanese intelligence officials (English is the de facto official language of the intelligence alliance), and the need to bridge the gap between intelligence policies and clarify the roles of each. Indeed, the US remains cautious about Japan’s membership issue in Five Eyes because of similar doubts.
Japan, meanwhile, sees a risk in a major mismatch between the policies (particularly Chinese policy) of successive Liberal and Labor governments in Australia. He is also concerned about the state government’s indifference to national security concerns, as illustrated by the Northern Territory government’s long-term lease of the strategically important Port of Darwin to a Chinese company.
Japan and Australia should work together to nurture and develop their US alliance, jointly contribute to stabilizing economic relations with China, and include the US in efforts to achieve a Japan-America-Australia model of cooperation. This will be a real plus of the Japan-Australia alliance.
Yoichi Funabashi is chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative and former editor-in-chief of the Asahi Shimbun. This is a translation of his column in Bungei Shunju’s monthly.
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