Japan-Australia Defense Partnership Will Give Significant Boost to Broader QUAD Strategy Against ‘Notorious’ China

By Amb. Gurjit Singh

In a cold start until 2022, Japan strengthened its strategic partnership with two Quad members, Australia and the United States. Signing of the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between Japan and Australia is important. The military establishments of the two Quad partners can work together on defense and humanitarian operations.

On the same day, January 6, Japan held its 2 + 2 with the United States with the participation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as well as Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi.

Prime Minister Kishida was due to visit Australia, but due to Covid restrictions he held a virtual summit. The RAA is the first time since 1960 that Japan has signed a defense pact of this magnitude with a country.

In 1960, the Treaty of Cooperation and Mutual Security between Japan and the United States was concluded, under which the United States maintains a status of forces agreement and several bases with naval armadas, fighter jets and troops in and around Japan. Japan obtains support for SDF, anti-ballistic missile shield, communications security and HADR support. United States 7e The fleet is located in Yokosuka, Japan.

For the post-WWII generation, the Japan-U.S. Defense Pact was seen as the basis of regional security.

The Japan-Australia partnership

The 2014 Japan-Australia Special Strategic Partnership is the only one Australia has with a partner. Australia sees this as two trusted partners, two democracies, committed to the rule of law, human rights, open trade and the free and open Indo-Pacific.

The 2007 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation (JDSC) served as a basis for cooperation on security matters, particularly in the areas of law enforcement, border security, the fight against terrorism, disarmament and the counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction , maritime and air security, peacekeeping and HADR. This is solidly built.

The 29-article RAA takes the growing engagement bilaterally and via Quad to a time when more advanced defense and security cooperation is envisioned. The rapidly changing power equations in the Indo-Pacific make Australia and Japan see this environment as a challenge.

Japan-Australia Agreement via Twitter

The motivation behind this comes from the rise of China’s military and economic intentions. The current concerns that RAA hopes to address all relate to China. This includes the Chinese push against Taiwan, China’s restriction on freedom of navigation in the region, particularly in the East and South China Seas, and aggressive Chinese trade behavior which has had a huge impact on Australian exports to China.

Humanitarian operations emanate from Japan’s Defense White Paper, which emphasizes humanitarian aid as a major rule for its Self-Defense Forces (SDF), which are not yet constitutionally authorized to maintain an aggressive posture.

Japan-US-Australia trilateral military training
Japan-US-Australia trilateral military training in June 2021 (Photo courtesy of the Japanese Ministry of Defense)

The RAA shows that Japan and Australia are working towards a stronger partnership between themselves and within the Quad. Australia signed the UKUS in September 2021 with the aim of acquiring nuclear-powered submarines from the United States.

AUKUS engages traditional partners, the UK and US, more extensively on defense issues with Australia. Although AUKUS has annoyed France, its main purpose is to challenge Chinese hegemonistic intent in the region.

Along with Australia, the United States is particularly happy to work to counter China in the South and West Pacific where China has an improved footprint.

RAA – A big boost to the quad

The RAA in a way complements the triad of bilateral agreements between Japan, the United States and Australia and thus strengthens Quad.

The Canberra-Tokyo relationship has flourished since Shinzo Abe’s visit to Australia in 2014. Both countries have started to play a more important regional role. Following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Australia and Japan came together in 2018 to save it and create the CPTPP.

This is the arrangement that China has now asked to join. Australia, Japan and the United States have a Trilateral Partnership for Infrastructure Investment in the Indo-Pacific. Which promotes the sustainable development of infrastructures and the mobilization of private investments for regional infrastructures

The development of the Japan-Australia partnership is essentially based on Chinese activities. Initially, when the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku Islands emerged in 2005, Australia chose to view it as a bilateral issue in which it had no direct grip.

At that time, Australia preferred ASEAN’s way of engaging China economically, seeking a business partnership and avoiding strategic issues. However, in recent years, China has “punished” Australia for its outspoken strategic option exercised through the Quad, reducing its imports of Australian coal, barley, wine, beef and cotton. This affected $ 25 billion in Australian exports which have since sought diverse markets.

The earlier Australian distrust is now a confident stance, and Australia more deeply engages the United States through AUKUS, India through a rekindled strategic partnership, and Japan now through the RAA.

Without a doubt, the Quad set the mood for the Japan-Australia relationship. Through its participation in the two Quad Summits in 2021, Australia has fully engaged with its Quad partners, challenging China’s efforts to dominate the Indo-Pacific. .

Keeping a close watch on China

Japan’s National Security Strategy (NSS) is under review this year. The original 2013 SSN called for closer cooperation with regional partners such as the United States, Australia and India.

Japan is pursuing a massive increase in its defense budget, doubling it to nearly 2% of GDP, which will rise to $ 100 billion. The Japanese NSS will take care of Taiwan and its own Senkaku Islands where Chinese intrusions have rapidly increased.

File Image: Chinese Submarine

China’s revised coastguard law gives more freedom to its coastguard vessels that accompany Chinese fishing vessels to take strong action. In 2020, Chinese ships intruded Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands more than 300 times.

Meanwhile, Japan has clarified that its treaty with the United States will cover the Senkaku Islands and that Japan will offer support to the United States in the event of an emergency in Taiwan. While the nature of this is unclear, it is certainly possible that Japanese bases could be used by the United States to defend Taiwan if the need arises.

Meanwhile, the United States should be happier because with Japan and via AUKUS, American defense equipment would have primacy in their procurement process. What remains to be seen is whether Japan and Australia will join the leading US position on China’s assertiveness or prefer to play back for a draw.

(The author is the former Ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union. He is the Chairman of the ICN Working Group on Trilateral Cooperation in Africa and professor at IIT Indore.)

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