National / Politics

Japan and Australia on track for status of forces pact in July, sources say

Jiji

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, are expected to reach a basic agreement in July regarding the legal status of their armed forces when stationed in each other’s country, multiple government sources said Tuesday.

The envisaged Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) is intended to lay down a legal framework — including criminal procedures, immigration controls and taxation systems — for Japanese Self-Defense Forces and Australian military personnel when they are temporarily in each other’s territories for joint exercises or disaster relief activities.

The two countries started negotiations on concluding the RAA at a meeting between Abe and then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in July 2014.

The agreement with Australia will be the first of its kind for Japan.

The move reflects the Abe administration’s strengthening of ties with Australia — which it deems a “quasi-ally,” second to the United States.

Japan and Australia are also in discussions over the easing of immigration controls introduced as a measure against the COVID-19 pandemic, and a visit to Japan by Morrison is being considered. If realized, he will be the first foreign leader to visit Japan since it lifted the state of emergency over the virus.

However, the visit may be called off and replaced with a meeting via a videoconferencing system depending on the pandemic situation.

Discussions between the two countries had been halted due to Australia’s concerns that a member of its military might be sentenced to death in Japan if convicted of murder or other serious crimes in the country. Australia does not use the death penalty.

The two sides were able to make a breakthrough after Japan made a concession, a government source said. Judicial authorities in Japan are considering measures such as having crimes that would otherwise require the death penalty be punished with the maximum sentence under Australian law.

Discussions have been nudged along by the two countries’ concerns over China’s aggressive maritime expansion, according to the sources.

Japan, with its own initiative on realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific region, strongly prizes its relations with Australia, which shares values such as respect for human rights and the rule of law. The Morrison administration is also looking to strengthen ties with the United States and India, after relations with China turned sour.

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