SYDNEY – Closer defense ties between Japan and Australia should not raise concerns in regional superpower China, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Tuesday.
Canberra and Tokyo struck a major agreement Monday to enhance trade and security ties, elevating the bilateral relationship to a new level.
Abbott told ABC Radio in Australia he is taking no sides in territorial disputes between China and other nations, and the growing relationship with Japan does not target anyone else.
“It’s not against any specific country and as far as I am concerned — as far as just about every country is concerned — what we want to see is more democracy, more freedom, more respect for the rule of law,” he said when asked about China.
“We say there should be no change to the status quo, which is brought about by force or by the threat of force,” he said.
Abbott noted there is already a high degree of defense cooperation between Australia and Japan, which is embroiled in territorial disputes with neighboring China.
Australian and Japanese defense forces hold exercises together and Japan has previously purchased some Australian defense equipment, including Bushmaster armored infantry transport vehicles, he said.
“We want to see more inter-operability between our militaries, we want to see more exercises between our militaries, we want to see over time more significant intelligence cooperation,” the prime minister told ABC.
On Tuesday Australia was set to sign a free trade pact with South Korea following four years of negotiations. After Seoul, Abbott will head to China on Wednesday.
The agreement to boost security cooperation came after Japan last week loosened a self-imposed ban on weapons exports in a move which unnerved China.
In a rare opening of Japan’s protected markets, the two countries announced Monday a “substantive agreement” on a long-awaited free trade deal.
In Tokyo, Abbott said it is the first time Japan has negotiated a comprehensive economic partnership agreement or free trade deal with a major economy.