DARWIN, AUSTRALIA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a historic visit to Darwin on Friday, some 75 years after Japanese planes bombed the northern Australian city, as the two countries cement ties in the face of an emergent China.
Trade and closer defense relations are the centerpieces of Abe’s two-day visit and meetings with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, before the pair travel to Papua New Guinea for a weekend to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
In a communique, they expressed hope that an agreement on enhanced defense cooperation which includes joint military exercises and something the two countries have been discussing for several years, will be concluded early next year.
“Prime Minister Morrison and I confirmed our commitment to further deepen this special strategic partnership between Japan and Australia,” Abe told reporters in Darwin via a translator.
“Our common vision is of a free and open Indo Pacific, in the area of security we agreed to deepen our security and defense cooperation.”
Abe said they discussed regional strategic issues including maritime security in Southeast Asia and the Pacific island nations, and the denuclearization of North Korea.
Amid increased Chinese military and economic activity in the region, Japan and Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States earlier this week to increase investment in the southwest Pacific.
Abe is the first Japanese leader to visit the port city where more than 250 people were killed during multiple bombing raids in 1942-43 during World War II — the worst-ever foreign attacks on the country. Abe and Morrison paid their respects at a memorial to the war dead in an act reminiscent of the Japanese leader’s visit to Pearl Harbor in 2016.
“Prime Minister Abe’s visit is deeply symbolic and significant and it will build on our two countries’ strong and enduring friendship as well as our economic, security, community and historical ties,” Morrison said in a statement.
Veterans described the wreath-laying in a ceremony at the Darwin Cenotaph as moving.
“To see the Japanese prime minister here actually laying a wreath on our war memorial, it is a quite emotional thing. It is amazing that in 70 or so years we’ve come this far,” one veteran told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
On Saturday, Abe will also remember Japanese casualties when he visits a cenotaph for navy personnel who died when the I-124 was sunk by HMAS Deloraine in January 1942 — the first Japanese submarine to be sunk by an Australian ship.
Abe was scheduled to attend a ceremony later Friday marking the opening of a $34 billion (¥3.8 trillion) pipeline project, in which Japan’s Inpex is the majority shareholder and operator.
The Ichthys LNG project — this nation’s largest overseas investment — began shipping natural gas to Japan last month and is set to reinforce Australia’s position as the country’s main energy supplier.
The operation taps fields off Australia’s northern coast and pipes the gas nearly 900 kilometers (550 miles) to a port near Darwin.
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