Japan & Australia have strengthen their Military ties further with the signing of the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) to counter the Chinese Influence in the Region. 

Japanese Foreign Ministry Official had indicated earlier that “there will be something to announce from the meeting”. The pact has been under negotiations for six years and would require final approval from the lawmakers.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga received his first in-person visitor who is a leader of a Foreign Nation Tuesday, meeting his Australian Counterpart Scott Morrison at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.

The Australian Leader flew to Tokyo despite the 14-day quarantine he must undergo upon returning to Canberra, in line with his Country’s strict travel restrictions.

The mutual gestures reflected the determination on both sides to strengthen cooperation toward a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” The two leaders reached a basic agreement to boost defense cooperation that will make it easier for the two countries to conduct joint military exercises and operations by streamlining procedures.

“Prime minister, in any relationship, first impressions really count,” Morrison said in a joint news conference after the meeting. “And I can assure you, the first impressions on us both today, I think, have been extremely positive, and I look forward to a very important and very fruitful partnership between us in the years ahead.”

During their meeting, Morrison said he would call Suga “Yoshi,” and invited the Japanese Prime Minister to call him “ScoMo,” a common nickname for the Australian Leader. The two leaders reportedly used the friendly forms of address at dinner.

The landmark defense pact agreed to on Tuesday, the Reciprocal Access Agreement, is something Tokyo and Canberra have been eyeing for years. The defense pact will allow Japanese forces to operate in and around Australia, and for the Australian troops to do the same in Japan.

The agreement still needs to be approved by lawmakers in both countries. If it is put into effect, it would strip away administrative procedures required for one side to send troops for drills on the other’s soil. It would also simplify the process of moving arms and vehicles between the two, further lowering hurdles to cooperation involving Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Military.

Defense Cooperation between Japan and Australia has largely been focused on joint drills involving the two countries’ naval and air forces. The new agreement is expected to promote person-to-person contact between Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force and the Australian Army, potentially including their cyber and electronic warfare teams.

In a joint statement after the meeting, the two leaders expressed serious concern about the situation in the South China Sea, reconfirming “their strong opposition to any coercive or unilateral attempts to change the status quo and thereby increase tensions in the region,” a rebuke of China’s increased maritime activity.

They explicitly pointed to continued militarization of disputed features, dangerous use of coast guard vessels, ballistic missile launches and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities, all actions China has been accused of.

The two welcomed the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership on Sunday, adding that “RCEP remains open for India.” 

At the news conference in Tokyo, Suga said he wanted to “confirm that Japan and Australia are strengthening their partnership to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

According to the Japan Times, the provisions of the deal include taxation, basing, entry and exit procedures, and criminal jurisdiction. The negotiations process took six years due to complicated issues like how do the two governments respond legally if an SDF member kills an Australian civilian in a freak training accident.

This is the first such agreement after 1960 Status of Forces Agreement with the United States where foreign country could base warships, fighter jets and thousands of troops in and around Japan as part of a military alliance.

The pact holds extreme importance to counter Chinese militarization of the South China Sea, its maneuvers around disputed islands in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s growing influence over Pacific island nations further east.

China has used its Belt & Road Initiative to influence the Countries in Indo-Pacific Region. Many Small Countries such as Laos and Cambodia have come under the burden of Chinese debt, resulting in Beijing holding important posts in exchange.

Quad Countries; the US, India, Australia and Japan have also come together to nudge the Chinese dragon. With the change of power likely in the US, Japan has been assured by President-elect Joe Biden that Washington is obliged to defend Japan if its territories come under attack. The same will be applied to the defense of Okinawa Prefecture and the Senkaku Islands.

Author: Aakriti Sharma