National / Politics

Japan and Australia look to hammer out status of forces pact in June

JIJI

The Japanese and Australian governments are making arrangements to reach a status of forces agreement in June, sources said Sunday.

The two governments are looking at using a visit to Japan by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make a joint announcement on the agreement with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese government sources said.

The envisaged Reciprocal Access Agreement is designed to lay down a legal framework, including criminal procedures, immigration controls and taxation systems, for Self-Defense Forces and Australian troops when they are stationed temporarily in each other’s country for joint exercises or disaster-relief activities.

The RAA is equivalent to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement governing U.S. forces stationed constantly in Japan.

Japan also has a SOFA with the United Nations, but the RAA with Australia will be the first of its kind for Japan.

As part of its effort to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan places importance on its relations with Australia, which shares such values as respect for human rights and the rule of law, and sees the nation as a quasi-ally behind its key partner, the United States.

Japan and Australia have promoted defense cooperation in recent years, through joint exercises by ground, maritime and air forces and cooperation in vigilance and surveillance activities to prevent ship-to-ship transfers of banned goods by North Korea.

If the legal status of troops achieves greater stability under the RAA, mutual visits by the SDF and the Australian military are expected to become more common.

Japan and Australia launched negotiations on the RAA at a meeting between Abe and then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in July 2014.

The talks hit a snag as Australia, which has abolished capital punishment, showed reluctance to the idea of allowing its personnel to be brought to justice under Japan’s Penal Code. However, there has been major progress recently toward an agreement, according to the sources.

A visit by Morrison planned for January was put off following the wildfire emergency in Australia.

Britain, which aims to be engaged more deeply in Asian affairs following its exit from the European Union, has also expressed eagerness to conclude an RAA with Japan. Talks may start after the Japan-Australia pact is concluded.

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