Japan signs landmark security pact with Australia

by Reiji Yoshida

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his visiting Australian counterpart, John Howard, signed a landmark security accord Tuesday to strengthen bilateral cooperation, making Japan Australia’s closest security ally after the United States.

For Japan, the pact is the first modern diplomatic arrangement on permanent security cooperation with a country other than the U.S.

Aware that the deal could irk China, the two leaders have expressly denied the pact is intended to contain Japan’s giant neighbor, whose military presence is growing in the Asia-Pacific region.

Abe has repeatedly stressed that his administration will explore ways to expand cooperation with countries — most notably Australia and India — that “share common basic values” of democracy, human rights and the market economy.

“Did (Japan in the past) recognize Australia as a diplomatic partner, a partner from the viewpoint of security? I think the answer was no,” Abe told an Upper House session earlier Tuesday.

“We didn’t understand the merits” of security cooperation with Australia until recently, Abe said, emphasizing the significance of the initiative.

According to the statement, the two countries will establish annual strategic talks between their respective foreign and defense ministers to draw up an action plan with specific measures to cope with common security issues.

A joint meeting of foreign and defense ministers — a so-called 2 plus 2 meeting — will also be held regularly.

Specifically, the “strategic interests” the two countries share include resolving issues related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and the North Korea threat, the statement said.

The United States will be a key component of the Tokyo-Canberra security setup. According to the draft statement, the U.S., Japan and Australia will strengthen trilateral diplomatic and defense cooperation.

Japan and Australia will also strengthen their cooperation through the United Nations and other international bodies in such areas as peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance.

Howard delivered a speech earlier Tuesday to Japanese business leaders in Tokyo, during which he stressed that Australia has “no more reliable partner within the Asia-Pacific region than Japan.”

He pointed out the two countries have already had three major experiences cooperating in overseas security operations — U.N. peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, security missions in East Timor and the deployment of troops in southern Iraq.

Howard is in Tokyo for a four-day trip that will end Wednesday to sign the security deal and mark the 50th anniversary of the 1957 Japan-Australia trade pact.

Assure us: China

BEIJING (Kyodo) China wants to believe assurances from Japan and Australia that their new bilateral security accord is not targeted at the country, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

“We hope what they are saying is true,” Qin Gang told a regular press conference.

Qin repeated China’s position that Beijing does not pose a military threat to others.

“We will not invade others, and not threaten others,” he said. “We have nothing to be scared of. We are unperturbed.”