Japan, Australia strengthen defense relations, says Japanese ambassador

Japan’s ambassador to Australia expressed hope for increased defense cooperation between Tokyo and Canberra, saying the two countries must work together to prevent the Indo-Pacific from becoming a “lawless jungle” .

In an interview with the Australian newspaper published Monday, Ambassador Shingo Yamagami reported an increase in joint military training, saying that greater interoperability between the Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Army is vital because “in the event of unforeseen events, we must work closely together. “

The ambassador also said Australia would not be alone in its fight against Chinese economic coercion, pledging to work with Australia and other democratic countries to provide “a counterweight against such a dominant power” afterwards. that China has imposed high tariffs on major Australian exports such as wine. and barley in response to Canberra’s calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yamagami said Japan was on the “front line” of Chinese harassment, referring to Beijing’s use of its coast guard and so-called maritime militia to challenge Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in the China Sea. eastern.

However, he called China’s “blatant attempt to change the status quo” in the East and South China Seas a significant problem for Australia as well, stressing its reliance on free access to waterways for the United States. transportation of minerals across the East China Sea to its three main markets in China, Japan and South Korea.

“The important principle that we must continue to uphold is the rule of law; otherwise we will end up living in a lawless jungle, ”he said.

In November last year, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison agreed in principle to enter into a bilateral pact to facilitate joint exercises between their troops, officially called the “reciprocal access agreement”.

Yamagami reaffirmed his hope that the historic pact would be finalized by the end of the year, allowing “more complex and sophisticated” defense cooperation between the two countries.

This would see an increase in the length and frequency of visits by SDF personnel to Australia and vice versa, with the Ambassador indicating Japan’s interest in using Australian distance training facilities and ranges, as well as more joint exercises with the Australian Navy.

Yamagami also highlighted the importance of a trilateral Japan-US-Australia partnership for Indo-Pacific infrastructure investment, announced in 2018, as a way to help developing countries resist Chinese pressure by proposing “better quality” projects as an alternative to the Belt and Road of China. initiative.

Last month, Japan and Australia presented a united front against Chinese economic coercion in the region in a joint statement following a so-called two plus two meeting involving Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi and their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.

The two countries expressed their “strong opposition to coercive and destabilizing behavior in the region,” while reiterating serious concerns about the situation in the East and South China Seas.

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