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Australia and Japan Activate Treaty to Defend Against China

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In a landmark move, Australia and Japan have solidified their Special Strategic Partnership by activating the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). This pact underscores both nations’ growing concerns over China’s assertive actions in the Indo-Pacific region.

The RAA has established a legal framework to intensify defense cooperation between the Australian Defense Force and the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). Notably, this is Japan’s first visiting forces agreement since the one they have with the United States. Consequently, Australia becomes the second nation permitted to have its military forces on Japanese territory.

Practical results of this agreement will materialize in various ways:

  • Japanese F-35s are set to be stationed at RAAF Base Tindal in Australia by the end of August.
  • Australian F-35s will participate in the Exercise Bushido Guardian in Japan for the first time in early September.
  • Over 150 Australian personnel will travel to Japan in December to join the Exercise Yama Sakura as full participants.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Richard Marles, highlighted the significance of the RAA: “The Reciprocal Access Agreement will deepen the relationship between our respective defense forces… Both Australia and Japan recognize the increasing complexity of our security environment and the need to grow our partnership to support a stable and prosperous region.”

According to Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, this Agreement further cements the vital security and defense relationship between the two nations, emphasizing their mutual goal for a stable and peaceful region.

Japanese officials have echoed these sentiments. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi believes the RAA will bolster the cooperation between the two nations. Prime Minister Kishida labeled it a “Landmark agreement that will bring Japan-Australia security cooperation to a new level.”

The foundation for the RAA was laid during the 2021 Annual Leaders’ Summit Meeting, amidst increasing concerns over actions by Beijing, including economic pressures on Australia and escalated military patrols near areas disputed with Japan.

The RAA is designed not just for military training and deployment but also to simplify the transportation of equipment for joint exercises and humanitarian missions. Experts point out Japan’s vulnerability given the absence of any NATO-like defense alliance in the Indo-Pacific. With the changing dynamics of US politics and the unpredictability of America’s commitment to Japan’s security, this agreement with Australia offers some solace.

Researchers Femy Francis and Dhriti Mukherjee note that the RAA aims to envision a future beyond the US-led alliance in the region, allowing Australia and Japan to navigate their relations with global powers more strategically.

However, the RAA’s journey wasn’t without challenges. Questions arose over how ADF personnel would be treated under Japanese law and how Australians would perceive JSDF personnel’s presence on their soil, considering historical events like the 1942 Japanese attack on Darwin.

On another front, with global tensions rising due to events like the Ukraine war, the Australia-Japan partnership also carries an energy cooperation angle. Japan is significantly reliant on Australian gas, with Australia meeting one-third of Japan’s energy needs.

However, not all reactions to the RAA have been positive. China’s Global Times described the Agreement as a potential instigator of regional tensions. Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, said the RAA was part of Japan’s strategic moves in the Indo-Pacific region.

Thomas Wilkins of the Japan Institute for International Affairs, however, cautioned against viewing the RAA as merely a military alliance. He sees it as a crucial evolution in the security relationship between Australia and Japan.

In addition to the RAA, Japan and Australia have been working on other fronts. Recently, the two nations agreed to share sensitive intelligence and intensify defense cooperation. Despite not having vast overseas intelligence networks like larger countries, both nations possess advanced electronic eavesdropping tools and satellites. Experts see these moves as signs of Japan becoming more proactive in security matters, which may even lead to its participation in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.

Furthermore, in recent times, Prime Ministers Kishida and Albanese also promised more collaboration on the environment, energy, and critical minerals. This partnership can help both countries diversify their energy sources and reduce their reliance on a single nation.

As China grows more belligerent, fear in the world grows and more countries ally against them. The unpredictable nature of China means that many are predicting war.

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