• Kyodo

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A high-level security dialogue between Japan and Australia scheduled for later this month in Tokyo has been postponed until early next year, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Tuesday, citing the ill health of Defense Minister Marise Payne.

“We will need to defer the meeting until early in the new year,” Bishop told reporters in Canberra regarding the annual “two-plus-two” foreign and defense ministers meeting, which has not been held since November 2015.

“The Japanese understand that because of Minister Payne’s recent illness, she’s been advised not to travel,” she said.

Payne, Australia’s first female defense minister, recently had abdominal surgery for an infection and has been off work for several weeks.

At the next two-plus-two meeting, Australia and Japan are expected to sign a revised bilateral pact to boost logistics cooperation between their armed forces.

Through the revision of the Japan-Australia Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement, ammunition will be newly added among the supplies that the Self-Defense Forces will be able to provide to Australian forces in line with Japan’s new security legislation, which expanded the role of the SDF in various fields.

With uncertainties remaining on how U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will deal with security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan apparently hopes the reinforcement of bilateral ties with Australia will be beneficial for trilateral security cooperation involving the United States.

The Japan-Australia ACSA, which went into force in January 2013, enables SDF personnel and Australia’s military to share food, fuel and other supplies during U.N. peacekeeping operations, international relief operations, joint exercises and other occasions. The provision of weapons and ammunition has been excluded from the accord.

The move is part of a series of changes brought by the controversial security legislation, which came into force in March.

At the next talks, which will be the seventh of their kind, the Japanese and Australian ministers are also expected to discuss how to deal with China’s growing maritime assertiveness and North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches.

Japanese officials are still smarting at the Australian government’s decision in April to award a multibillion-dollar contract to build Australian naval submarines to a French firm, turning down a bid from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

At the last two-plus-two talks, held in Sydney on November 2015, Japan had pitched to Australia the advantages of partnering with Japan on the developing its new submarines, but in vain.

Last August, Payne and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada agreed in talks in Tokyo to strengthen security cooperation, with Payne calling the security ties with Japan “one of Australia’s highest priorities for defense engagement.”

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