Fri, Jan 19, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Japan and Australia to ink defense pact as soon as possible

AFP, TOKYO

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, center, shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, in front of an Australian-made Bushmaster armored vehicle at Narashino exercise field in Funabashi, Japan, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

The prime ministers of Japan and Australia yesterday said they would push to seal a major security agreement “as early as feasible,” in the face of tensions over North Korea.

The agreement on joint defense operations and exercises was at the center of talks between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a one-day visit by the Australian leader.

In a joint statement after talks and a tour of a military training base outside Tokyo, Turnbull and Abe said they “welcomed the recent progress in negotiations, and directed all relevant ministers to conclude the negotiations as early as feasible.”

“Going forward, we agree to strive toward strengthening both quantitatively and qualitatively the joint exercises by Japan and Australia and aim at concluding an agreement at the earliest possible timing that would enable smooth mutual visits of the units,” Abe said at a joint news conference.

The proposed pact would be the first of its kind for Japan and would make Australia Tokyo’s closest military partner after the US.

It would involve joint defense operations and exercises, with one eye also on China as it expands its naval ambitions.

The pact would reportedly lay the groundwork for Japanese military exercises out of Darwin, the Australian city heavily bombed by Japan in World War II.

“The [military] agreement, when concluded, will be a pillar of the Japan-Australia security cooperation,” a Japanese diplomat said ahead of the talks.

Both sides have said boosting military cooperation is vital given the tense situation in the region, with North Korea’s missile program bringing the world closer to nuclear conflict than at any time since the Cold War.

China’s steady expansion of its military and economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region has also encouraged Japan and Australia to draw closer militarily.

On the trip, Turnbull inspected Australian-made military equipment used by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and urged the international community to keep up the pressure on North Korea.

“We discussed at considerable length the threats posed by the reckless rogue regime in North Korea,” Turnbull said at the news conference.

“We discussed the importance of ensuring the economic sanctions are enforced rigorously so that this regime is brought to its senses and stops threatening in the manner that it does the peace and stability of our region,” he added.

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