Abe, Turnbull sign pact boosting Japan-Australia defense ties

Kyodo, AP, Bloomberg, JIJI

Following a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Japan and Australia on Saturday signed a revised pact to boost logistics cooperation between their defense forces.

Under the revised Japan-Australia acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA), the Self-Defense Forces will now be able to supply ammunition to the Australian military.

At a news conference, Abe and Turnbull underscored the importance of their cooperation, as well as trilateral cooperation with the United States, and its significance for the Asia-Pacific region.

Turnbull said the agreement “improves the capacity of our defense forces to provide each other with logistical support during exercises, operations and other activities.”

Abe also said the two nations are “working to sign an agreement by the end of this year” to allow better cooperation on training and joint operation between the SDF and Australia’s military forces.

The move is also in line with Abe’s drive for “proactive pacifism,” characterized by new security legislation expanding the role of the SDF in various areas.

The legislation, which has prompted public criticism that Abe seeks to erode the pacifist Constitution, allows Japan to supply ammunition to foreign defense forces responding to situations deemed to have an “important influence on Japan’s peace and security.”

The provision of weapons and ammunition was excluded from the past version of the ACSA, which came into force in January 2013. The pact enabled the SDF and Australian military to share food, fuel and other supplies during U.N. peacekeeping operations, international relief operations and joint exercises.

Both leaders confirmed their intention to work together with the incoming Trump administration. In a statement, they affirmed that their respective alliances with the United States “remain as relevant and important today as they have been for over six decades.”

“We will work closely with the coming administration, as we have been, to advance the region’s interests and our shared goals,” Turnbull said at a joint news conference after the summit.

Abe said he and Turnbull had “confirmed our intention to solidly coordinate with the incoming Trump administration.”

According to the statement, Japan and Australia will “continue to work proactively, alongside the U.S. and other like-minded countries, including India, to maintain the rules-based international order and support a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region.”

Abe and Turnbull also reaffirmed their commitment to free trade, including bringing into force the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to dump.

Turnbull has urged resistance to protectionism. “It is imperative we resist those voices urging us to close ourselves off from the world, because protectionism is a path to poverty,” Turnbull said in an article he wrote for an Australian newspaper.

The future of the TPP is in doubt after Trump campaigned on a pledge to kill it off on the first day of his presidency.

Both countries could come under increasing pressure from the Trump government to act as a bulwark to China in the region.

“It is more necessary than ever before for Japan and Australia, as special strategic partners, to play a leading role for regional peace and prosperity, as we both share common values such as freedom, rule of law and democracy,” Abe said.

“We’ve confirmed our commitment to the rule of law, free trade, open markets in our region — the foundation upon which our prosperity, and that of billions of other people in our region, depends,” Turnbull added.

Incoming U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate earlier in the week that he was in favor of blocking China’s access to artificial islands it is building in the South China Sea, and that U.S. allies in the region should provide backup in this task.

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating said Tillerson was threatening to involve Australia in a war with China, describing his comments as “simply ludicrous.”

At a Japan-Australia tourism seminar Saturday, Abe also called for stepped-up efforts to increase the numbers of visitors between Japan and Australia.

“Japan and Australia are very attractive tourist destinations to each other’s people, considering the small time difference and opposite seasons between the two countries,” Abe said. “Japan plans to make national efforts to be prepared for welcoming visitors from abroad in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games” in 2020.

Referring to the large number of Australian visitors to Niseko and other ski resorts in Hokkaido, Abe said, “I’d like to enjoy skiing in Niseko with Prime Minister Turnbull someday.”

In the Philippines, the prime minister’s first leg of the trip, Abe welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts to boost ties with Beijing following the Philippines’ victory in an arbitration ruling declaring China’s claims to the South China Sea invalid.

Abe said, “The issue of the South China Sea is linked directly to regional peace and stability and is a concern to the entire international community.”