Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced an “in-principle agreement” on the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) after holding their first face-to-face meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Among other things, the pact establishes a legal framework for each other’s troops to visit for training and military operations, and greatly streamlines the procedures.
Japanese media have called RAA that has been negotiated for six years a “breakthrough” and a “significant milestone” for Japan. Scott Morrison hailed the agreement as a “pivotal moment in the history of Japan-Australia ties”.
“The RAA cannot be understated,” Morrison said.”It will form a key plank of Australia’s and Japan’s response to an increasingly challenging security environment in our region amid more uncertain strategic circumstances.”
Defence officials in Australia believe that the agreement will help facilitate cooperation between the two nations, especially in the increasingly contested waters of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
In a joint statement released late on Tuesday, both sides “expressed serious concerns” about the situation in both seas, and “reconfirmed their strong opposition to any coercive or unilateral attempts to change the status quo and thereby increase tensions in the region”.
The statement also “emphasised the importance of upholding Hong Kong’s democratic processes and institutions”, which includes “the high degree of autonomy set out in the Basic Law and Sino-British Joint Declaration”.
Canberra has come into a tense relationship with Beijing over trade in the past months when China started to ban seven categories of Australian imports, including coal, beef, wine, timber, grain and lobsters.
Australia has looked into other markets in Asia for its exports and Japan is likely the most important business partner.
China’s militarization of the South China Sea and its incursion into Japanese territory in the East China Sea has been a growing concern for Australia and Japan.
Over the past decade or so, China has slowly been consolidating its military presence on seven artificial islands in the South China Sea, bringing in defence systems and increasing radar capabilities.
As the most important allies of the United States in Asia-Pacific, Australia and Japan have been participating in military exercises together in recent years; Australia has joined last month the Malabar naval exercises with Japan, India and the United States.
Both nations will now look to increase their military co-operation when this RAA streamlines arrangements to support the deployment of troops more quickly and with less red tape.
Scott Morrison invited his Japanese counterpart to visit Australia next year to formally sign the agreement.
The move has greatly angered China and dictators in Beijing have vowed “some sort of countermeasures”.
Zhao Lijian, the foreign ministry spokesperson, said some people in Australia with “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice” had taken “a series of wrong moves related to China”.
The state-run Global Times said in its editorial, “Japan and Australia are developing their ties because of their strategic concerns over China. They work on the outdated military alliance and show a confrontational posture. But they should know the potential strategic dangers of doing so.”
“This is not only unfair, but also very dangerous,” Global Times said. “It’s inevitable that China will take some sort of countermeasures. ”
“Countries like Japan and Australia have been used as US tools. The strategic risk for a tool to be damaged is certainly higher than that of a user. They will surely pay a corresponding price if China’s national interests are infringed upon and its security is threatened,” the paper read.
By Winnie Troppie