• Kyodo

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Japan’s ambassador to Australia has expressed hopes of increased defense cooperation between Tokyo and Canberra, saying that the two nations must work together to prevent the Indo-Pacific becoming “a lawless jungle.”

In an interview with The Australian newspaper published Monday, Ambassador Shingo Yamagami signaled an increase in joint military training, stating that greater interoperability between the Self-Defense Forces and Australia’s military is vital because “at the time of contingencies, we have to work closely together.”

The ambassador also said that Australia would not be alone in its fight against Chinese economic coercion, pledging to work with Australia and other democratic countries to provide “a counterweight against such a dominant power” after China imposed heavy tariffs on major Australian exports such as wine and barley in response to Canberra’s calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yamagami stated that Japan has been on the “frontline” of Chinese harassment, referencing Beijing use of its coast guard and so-called maritime militia to challenge Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

However, he called China’s “blatant attempt to change the status quo” in the East and South China seas an important issue for Australia as well, pointing to its reliance on free access to waterways for the transportation of minerals through the East China Sea to its top three markets in China, Japan and South Korea.

“The important principle we need to keep upholding is the rule of law; otherwise we will end up living in a lawless jungle,” he said.

In November last year, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison agreed in principle to forge a bilateral pact aimed at facilitating joint exercises between their troops, formally called a “reciprocal access agreement.”

Yamagami reaffirmed hopes that the landmark pact would be finalized by the end of the year, allowing for “more complex and sophisticated” defense cooperation between the two countries.

It would see an increase in the length and frequency of visits by SDF personnel to Australia and vice versa, with the ambassador indicating Japan’s interest in making use of Australia’s remote training facilities and weapons ranges, as well as more joint exercises with the Australian Navy.

Yamagami also emphasized the importance of a Japan-U.S.-Australia trilateral partnership for Indo-Pacific infrastructure investment, announced in 2018, as a way to help developing nations withstand Chinese pressure by providing “higher quality” projects as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Last month, Japan and Australia presented a united front against Chinese economic coercion in the region in a joint statement following a so-called two-plus-two meeting involving Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and their Australian counterparts Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.

Both nations expressed their “strong opposition to coercive and destabilizing behavior in the region,” while reiterating serious concerns about the situations in the East and South China seas.

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