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Japan, Australia deepen security cooperation as they keep wary eye on China

U.S. allies Japan and Australia said they would deepen their security relationship, allowing Japanese self-defense forces to train in Australia and greater sharing of intelligence, as both countries respond to a more assertive China.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed an updated security cooperation pact and other agreements on Saturday, following bilateral meetings in the western Australian city of Perth, according to a report by RFA-affiliated online news service BenarNews.

Kishida, during a joint press conference with Albanese, also vowed to increase Japan’s defense spending significantly over the next five years and to consider all options for national defense including “counter strike capabilities.” Albanese said he strongly supported that commitment.

“We recognise that our partnership must continue to evolve to meet growing risks to our shared values and mutual strategic interests,” said a joint declaration on security cooperation issued after their talks.

The declaration did not name China but alluded to it in affirming their “unwavering commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.” 

“A favorable strategic balance that deters aggression and behavior that undermines international rules and norms” would be among things underpinning this commitment, Australia and Japan declared. 

China’s expansive claims to the entirety of the South China Sea, a busy global shipping route, and its forays into Taiwan’s airspace have contributed to heightened tensions in East Asia for several years.

More recently, Beijing’s burgeoning influence with small island nations in the Pacific has also concerned the United States and allies such as Australia.

“Japan and Australia, sharing fundamental values and strategic interest, have come under the increasingly harsh strategic environment,” Kishida said after the signing of the security agreement. 

The updated Australia-Japan Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation “will [change] the direction of our security and defense cooperation in the next 10 years,” he said.

The pact said the two countries would strengthen exchanges of strategic assessments through annual leaders’ meetings, foreign and defense ministers’ meetings, dialogues between senior officials and intelligence cooperation. 

“We will consult each other on contingencies that may affect our sovereignty and regional security interests, and consider measures in response,” it said. 

Japanese and Australian forces will conduct joint exercises in the north of Australia, enhancing the ability of the two countries’ militaries to work together, the document said.

In late 2021, Australia tightened its security ties with the United States and the United Kingdom under a plan for Australia’s military to eventually be equipped with nuclear-powered submarines. The agreement infuriated France as the so-called AUKUS pact meant that Australia ditched a deal to buy French-made submarines.

Japan and Australia also signed an agreement that would help secure supplies of critical minerals from Australia for Japan’s manufacturing industries.

China’s official annual spending on its military meanwhile has swelled in the past decade, giving the Asian superpower new offensive and defensive capabilities. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s third aircraft carrier was launched in June and is undergoing trials, Radio Free Asia (RFA), an online news service affiliated with BenarNews, has reported.

China’s annual military spending will reach U.S. $230 billion this year compared with $60 billion in 2008, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which cites official Chinese government figures. 

Some defense analysts say China’s actual spending on its military is likely closer to $290 million. U.S. military spending was nearly $770 billion in 2021 while Japan’s was about U.S. $56 billion, according to CSIS.