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The Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between Japan and Australia is a big deal. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is right to call it “a landmark agreement that will take Japan-Australia security cooperation to a new level,” but it’s much more than that. The RAA is one more strand — albeit a big one — in the diversifying and thickening web of security relations that is emerging in the Indo-Pacific region.

The RAA crystallizes the desire of those two governments to transform their security relationship at a time of great and growing uncertainty. Despite that shared ambition, negotiations took seven years. A formidable obstacle were provisions that govern the treatment of Australian troops who might commit crimes, a problem since Japan has the death penalty and Australia does not. The agreement was wrapped up last year and while there were hopes for a high-profile signing ceremony by the two prime ministers, they were squelched by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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