Nadezhda Alekseeva & Alena Medvedeva
The prime ministers of Japan and Australia signed a defense cooperation agreement on January 6. The treaty provides for the promotion of joint exercises, as well as enhances the interoperability of the armed forces of the two countries. In addition, the document identifies Washington’s “significant contribution” to the stability of the Indo-Pacific region. Experts believe that the new bilateral agreement will become part of the military-political architecture that the United States is building in the region to confront China.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Austra-lian Prime Minister Scott Morrison signed a bilateral agreement on January 6 during a virtual summit to strengthen cooperation bet-ween countries in the field of defense and security. “The Australia-Japan Mut-ual Access Agreement will establish permanent arrang-ements between the Austra-lian Armed Forces and the Japan Self-Defense Forces to facilitate common activities such as joint exercises or disaster relief operations, including in the most ambitious and complex cases, and will enhance the interoperability of forces. the two countries and strengthening their potential, ”the heads of government said in a joint statement.
The document also notes that Kishida and Morrison “reaffirmed the importance of encouraging cooperation between the Japanese Coast Guard and the Australian Department of the Interior, including to facilitate data exchange and collaboration on maritime awareness.”
At the same time, both sides assign a special role to their common partner – Washington. The joint statement notes “the United States ‘significant and lasting contribution to the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region, as well as the United States’ commitment to working closely with allies and partners.”
Ahead of the formal si-gning of the agreement, the Australian Prime Minister spoke at a press conference, during which he named Japan Australia’s only special strategic partner.
“The next level is an ally, so Japan is one of our most important partners, our only special strategic partner. This is beyond a comprehensive strategic partnership. And the historic mutual access agreement we conclude today is known to usher in a new c-hapter in expanded defense cooperation between Aust-ralia and Japan to address a new and even more complex environment, in particular in the Indo-Pacific reg-ion,” emphasized Morrison.
Australia is the only country with which Japan has a reciprocal status-of-forces treaty, he said. “This agreement complements the package of agreements on defense, security and partnership that our government has created over the past three years to ensure the safety of Australians and our region,” – explained the politician. The Prime Minister also recalled the existing security agreements signed in recent years by Canberra with other countries in the regi-on, as well as formats such as QUAD and Five Eyes.
Recall that the QUAD (Quadripartite Security Dialogue) alliance includes the United States, Australia, India and Japan. Founded in 2007, the work of this alliance intensified in 2017 amid growing interest in the Indo-Pacific region from Washington and deepening US-China controversies. In turn, the Five Eyes format, formed during the Cold War years, unites intelligence services in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States. Let us recall that in recent years both Australia and Japan have shown a desire to build up their defense capabilities. So, in January 2021, the Australian Cabinet announced spending in the amount of1 billion Australian dollars ($ 770 million) for the first phase of work on the creation of the latest guided weapons for the Navy. Canberra plans to create “a strong and reliable deterrent that will ensure stability and security in the region.” In total, it is planned to spend 183 billion Australian dollars ($ 141.4 billion) on the modernization of shipbuilding.
It is worth noting that as a result of the Second World War, Japan was deprived of the right to have a full-fledged army, the corresponding restriction is enshrined in the country’s Constitution. However, this does not prevent Tokyo from actively building up its military potential. For example, the Japanese authorities intend to create their own next-generation fighter jet, put into service underwater drones and expand capabilities in space, cyberspace and the field of electromagnetic warfare. This, in particular, was mentioned in the White Book of the Japanese Ministry of Defense for 2020. As a military expert and senior research fellow at the Higher School of Economics Vasily Kashin recalled in an interview with RT, a few years ago Japan adjusted its legislation so that it allowed for the possibility of collective defense. “Japan has also long shown interest in developing military-technical cooperation with Australia. The creation of the AUKUS alliance in September last year and the possible introduction of nuclear submarines into the Australian navy’s arsenal have likely spurred this interest. Japan can become an important supplier of military equipment for Australia, ”Kashin said. In turn, Vladimir Shapovalov, deputy director of the Institute of History and Politics of the Moscow State Pedagogical University, emphasizes that the Self-Defense Forces of Japan in their capabilities have long been equal to the armies of many countries.
“Japan is actively developing its defense potential, and it is already difficult to talk about it as a demilitarized country. As for Australia, its course is undergoing major changes. Until recently, it was China’s economic partner, and now it is joining the arms race and the confrontation against the PRC in the Asia-Pacific region. And here Australia acts as a “trustee” for the United St-ates, “the expert explained in a commentary on RT.
Vasily Kashin also notes that Canberra is moving in the mainstream of the American course, which largely explains the growth of its foreign policy activity. “Australia has close military and political ties with the United States. At the same time, economically, it has traditionally been a partner of China. However, as the US-China contradictions deepened, both Beijing and Washington tried to win Canberra over to their side. However, Australia has made a choice in favor of developing relations with the United States and participating in the containment of China. And now it will predetermine its further course, ”the analyst believes. In addition to the fact that Japan and Australia are partners of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, they also develop bilateral cooperation in the defense sphere. Thus, in 2003, Tokyo and Canberra signed a Memorandum on Military Cooperation and a Joint Statement on Cooperation in the Fight against International Terrorism, in 2007 – a Declaration on Cooperation in the Field of Security. The countries agreed to coordinate foreign policy steps in the field of national and regional security, exchange intelligence and conduct joint exercises. In 2013, an intergovernmental agreement on mutual supplies and services between the defense departments of the countries began to operate.
At the same time, Australia is part of the AUKUS alliance, created in September 2021 and also includes the United States and Great Britain. This agreement provides for the strengthening of the military-technical partnership of the three countries to protect their interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
One of the most resonant terms of the agreement was the Allies’ plans to create Australia’s own nuclear submarine fleet. In connection with these plans, Canberra has canceled the contract with Paris for the supply of 12 Shortfin Barracuda Block A1 diesel-electric submarines.
However, as Vasily Kashin believes, so far the real significance of AUKUS is lower than the weight of previously concluded agreements with the participation of Australia.
“AUKUS is a political declaration of the intention of the three parties to develop their military-technical cooperation. At the same time, Japanese-American relations have not yet reached the level of interaction that exists between Australia and the US. For example, Canberra’s membership in the Five Eyes union can be called the highest degree of trust,” says the analyst. At the same time, he admits that in the light of the signing of a new agreement, the dialogue between Australia and Japan can reach almost the same level.
“The United States and its allies are pursuing the goal of containing China and trying to coordinate their efforts. For a long time, this was hampered by the absence in the region of a single military-political alliance similar to NATO. It will be difficult to create an analogue of it in the foreseeable future, but nevertheless, an agreement on military cooperation between the US allies is the formation of prerequisites for formalized multilateral interaction, ”says Kashin.
Vladimir Shapovalov adheres to a similar point of view. According to him, the agreement between Tokyo and Canberra should be regarded as another measure to create an anti-Chinese military alliance.
“This is not the first such association. The United States is trying to mobilize all its allies and create a kind of NATO analogue in the region. For example, serious efforts are being made to draw India into these alliances. And strengthening ties between Australia and Japan is another step in this direction. And this is an alarming sign, which suggests that the situation in the region is deteriorating, tensions are growing,” the expert summed up.