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Aligned Allies: The Australia-Japan Strategic Partnership

Tags: Australia , Rebalancing , International Affairs , China , United States , Security Cooperation

Cook, Malcolm
Wilkins, Thomas S.

December 24, 2014


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Buoyed by close, personal rapport between their leaders, Japan and Australia have been deepening their bilateral security relationship by "quantum leaps" in recent years. In a paper contributed by Australian scholars Malcolm Cook and Thomas Wilkins, the authors examine the factors behind the warmer ties and the key security issues the two "aligned" partners will need to address.

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The last decade has seen the development of a truly comprehensive strategic partnership between Australia and Japan. This has been described by former Ambassador Murray McLean as a “quantum leap” in relations.[1] Since the 1930s, the two economies have been closely integrated, and since the 1950s, the two states have been aligned diplomatically and in support of effective regional and multilateral institutions.[2] However, only in this millennium have bilateral defence ties developed to any comparable extent.[3] Prime Minister John Howard’s positive response to Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s request in 2005 for Australian protection for Japan’s deployment to Iraq signalled a new, much closer bilateral security partnership. The fact that this historic bilateral agreement supported the two states’ contributions to the US-led multilateral force in Iraq reaffirmed the importance to Australia-Japan security relations of their respective alliance relationships with the United States—the shared foundation stone of each state’s post-war security and defence policy.

Eight prime ministers later in the case of Japan and five for Australia, the bilateral defence relationship is unrecognisable in its greater depth, scope and future ambition. In the latest annual defence white paper, Japan identifies Australia’s as its first-ranked security cooperation partner. Today, Australia and Japan are in the later stages of negotiating the sale of Japanese submarines (or submarine technology) to Australia and discussing the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force taking advantage of Australia’s terrain and wide open spaces for training.[4] Bilateral and trilateral military exercises are now a regular feature, and the two sides have signed and ratified an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) and more sensitive ones on intelligence sharing (ISA) and defence technology cooperation. Australia is Japan’s second most important defence partner after the United States and the reverse can be argued as well.

The strengths and benefits of this strategic partnership and its institutional underpinnings were reflected in Australia’s unprecedented support through Operation Pacific Assist to reinforce Japan’s response to the March 2011 triple disaster centred on Fukushima. It is therefore noteworthy that the aforementioned ACSA facilitated the Australian Defence Force deployments in Japan, while the success of the Operation sparked discussions on a future bilateral status of forces agreement (or variation thereof).

Looking forward to the next decade of the Australia-Japan strategic partnership, many of the same external environmental and domestic political factors in Australia and Japan that combined a decade ago to establish a true strategic partnership are in place again. Not only are they in place again but some are clearly more powerful and conducive to closer strategic and defence cooperation between Australia and Japan, between Japan, Australia and the United States and between Japan, Australia and other like-concerned Asia-Pacific states. The fact that many regional states, including the United States, are facing the same external environmental factors and coming up with similar strategic and policy responses provides scope for the broadening of Australia-Japan strategic and defence cooperation beyond the present bilateral and trilateral foci.

Edgy Environment

The ongoing proliferation of defence white papers in Australia since 2009 and national defense program guidelines in Japan since 2010 is a clear indication that the two governments are increasingly concerned and uncertain about the Asia-Pacific security environment and the proper policy responses to it. In the 2014 defense white paper, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera referred to the “increasingly severe security environment surrounding Japan.” The first chapter of the 2013 Defence White Paper in Australia explains why, less than four years later, a new defence white paper by the same government was needed. The new Tony Abbott administration, which came to power later that year, has promised a new defence white paper by 2015. In a similar vein, the new Shinzo Abe administration felt that the ground-breaking 2011 National Defense Program Guidelines were no longer sufficient and put out a new set within a year of taking power.

Both governments too have reinterpreted the role of defence policy and more clearly identified it as a component of national security policy. Japan put out their first National Security Strategy in December 2013 and established the new powerful National Security Council. In January 2013, the Julia Gillard administration issued Australia’s first National Security Strategy, five years after her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, gave the inaugural National Security Statement. Three factors in particular are at the centre of these repeated reinterpretations and their changing scope for bilateral security cooperation.

Emerged China

As with a decade ago, the simultaneous re-emergence of China as East Asia’s leading power and potentially the only serious strategic rival to the United States’ leading position in the Asia-Pacific and globally is viewed as the main factor shaping the external strategic environments of Australia and Japan. The impressive speed and scope of Chinese military modernisation is a common factor in all of the respective strategic and defence policy reinterpretations, as are new judgements about rising China’s intentions and regional ramifications. For Japan, its increasingly tense strategic relationship with its largest neighbour is the most important factor determining its strategic environment, with the US-Japan alliance the main external means to counteract worsening relations with China. For Australia, the main concern is the strategic ramifications of the US-China relationship. The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper states that, “The relationship between the United States and China, the region’s and the globe’s two most powerful states, will more than any other single factor determine our strategic environment over coming decades.”[5]

China’s increasingly assertive actions in support of its disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, though, are bringing Japanese and Australian concerns about China together, as captured in the latest joint statement from the US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue and the speeches by the Prime Minister Abe and Defence Minister David Johnston at the 2014 Shangri-La Dialogue.[6]

‘Rebalancing’ America

Successive governments from both sides of the house in Canberra and Tokyo have taken very similar welcoming positions on the US strategic ‘rebalancing’ in Asia. Both governments have determined that the United States position of unrivalled primacy in the region is eroding, that the United States will remain the most powerful state in the Asia-Pacific for the foreseeable future, and that both should more actively support the United States’ continued contribution to regional security. The rotation of US Marines through Darwin and the greater American use of Australian naval and air facilities in Western Australia are concrete examples of greater cooperation and burden-sharing with the United States; likewise for the expansion of Japan’s Aegis-capable fleet and radar facilities to support the US-led regional ballistic missile defence system and the recent constitutional reinterpretation to support Japan’s limited exercise of the right of collective self-defence. The pending Revisions of the Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation will further integrate the two security establishments, with Japan providing a more ‘balanced’ contribution to the alliance relationship.[7]

Supporting Southeast Asia

Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper and Japan’s 2014 edition both re-emphasise the importance of Southeast Asia, particularly its maritime zones, for regional security and the security of both Japan and Australia. Concerns in both Canberra and Tokyo extend well beyond the headline-grabbing tensions between China and the Philippines and China and Vietnam in the South China Sea to a range of non-traditional security threats from the increasing impact of natural disasters to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and the illegal movement of people. Japan’s response to the devastation of super-typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in late 2013 saw the largest deployment of Japanese security personnel in Southeast Asia since the end of World War II. ACSA again facilitated operational cooperation between the Australian and Japanese responses to Haiyan.

In 2014, Australia agreed to Malaysia’s request to take over the operational lead in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, while in 2013, Australia became the nineteenth member of the Japan-led ReCAAP,[8] a regional organisation focussed on improving Southeast Asian maritime surveillance and enforcement capabilities.[9] Both disasters and the continuing importance to Australia and Japan of maritime resource management and freedom of navigation in the neighbouring waters of Southeast Asia have reinforced Japanese and Australian interests and actions in helping Southeast Asian states enhance their maritime surveillance capabilities and regional cooperation and maintain “open and stable seas.”[10]

Focus on Japan

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has focussed with some success on revitalising Japan’s domestic and international fortunes under the slogan ‘Japan Is Back,’ as he has ridden a strong wave of popularity that has not ebbed too much since his return to power. In addition to domestic reforms in the economic sector (‘Abenomics’), and the security-related legislating indicated below, Abe has been a very active diplomatic champion of Japan overseas through self-styled “global diplomacy” (chikyugi gaiko). Abe avers that “Japan’s top foreign-policy priority must be to expand the country’s strategic horizons.”[11] To this extent he has personally invested in Japan’s strategic partnering efforts with Australia, India, Southeast Asia and Europe (in what has been dubbed a “networking strategy”).[12] He has also visited a wide range of other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Islands to restore Japan’s flagging overseas profile and garner renewed support for the country.

In contrast with the otherwise ‘realist’ policy thrust of the Liberal Democratic Party (and the Yoshihiko Noda administration), Mr. Abe has also coined the term ‘values-diplomacy,’ by which he has sought to attain moral and legal high ground in regional quarrels on the basis of Japan’s ‘good international citizenship’ since the end of World War II. Tokyo has sought to emphasise the importance of international law and norms of behaviour, especially as they relate to the use of the ‘global commons,’ whether maritime, space, or cyber space. As part of a strategy to uphold and reinforce a stable, rules-based regional and international order, he has sought to knit together a number of liberal states under the rubric of a “Democratic Security Diamond.” With the notable exception of China and South Korea, whose relations with Japan continue to regress on the basis of disputes over wartime memories, Japan has achieved some success in rallying the majority of Asia-Pacific states to its viewpoint. This is assisted in great part by deepening fears of China assertiveness and scepticism over its future intentions. Michael Green concluded in a previous Lowy Institute Analysis that “Shinzō Abe has articulated and begun implementing a coherent set of ends and means to ensure that Japan remains a ‘tier one’ player in international affairs.”[13]

Grand Strategy

In our previous report, The Quiet Achiever, we indicated that the contours of a new grand strategy for Japan were becoming discernable, belying critics’ observations that Japan has no discernable guiding policy for its strategic aims. In an ancillary publication (for the Tokyo Foundation) to this project, Thomas Wilkins identified that Japan’s objectives are now clearly codified into a recognisably cogent grand strategy (largely based upon the prolific documentation the government has produced). [14] As a result of increased challenges and weakened capabilities, the previous Yoshida Doctrine—depending purely on the United States for external security, with an accompanying emphasis on ‘economism’ in foreign policy—has been discarded. Also being steadily overturned under a quest for a “proactive contribution to international peace” (also known as ‘normalisation’) are internal and external constraints on the projection of power regionally and internationally. Briefly stated, four major pillars can be identified in Japan’s grand strategy: national economic and international revitalisation, strengthening of the Japan-US alliance, and regional security cooperation, with the latter divided into participation in institutional security architecture (EAS, ARF, ADMM+, etc.), and—in a more innovative twist—the building of enhanced bilateral relationships, known as ‘strategic partnerships,’ with key states such as Australia, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and ‘over the horizon’ partners like the United Kingdom.

Firstly, legislative and institutional reforms are key to this process. Japan aims to create what it calls ‘seamless security legislation’ in order to respond quickly and efficiently to a wide range of contingencies. The Japanese government has released a large number of significant policy documents clearly outlining its security policy and changing military posture. In addition to an annualised defence white paper (The Defense of Japan), the 2013 National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), the 2013 Medium Term Defense Program (MTDP), and the country’s first-ever National Security Strategy (2013) have been released. It is expected that new US-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines will appear by the end of 2014.

Reforms include:

  • A dedicated National Security Council (modelled on its US ally, and since followed by the UK and Australia) that answers to the Prime Minister’s Office (Kantei) and Cabinet. This “functions as a control tower of its foreign and defense policies.”[15] Attached to the NSC are the Secretary General of the supporting National Security Secretariat and a Special National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister. These organs are designed to allow Japan to achieve a more flexible and effective (‘seamless’) response to crises. The gradual accretion of power in the Kantei/NSC (and taming of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau), plus the increasing prestige of the Ministry of Defense, are the result and a supporting element of these reforms.
  • A reinterpretation of the constitution to allow for the exercise of the right of ‘collective self-defence.’ That is, Japan may now effectively use armed force to defend allies and partners in a situation in which they come under attack by hostile parties. It has long been thought perverse that the SDF did not have the right to, say, shoot down a missile from an enemy that was destined to strike an American allied vessel. Now, not only is this possible (it must be said, under quite circumscribed conditions), but it specifically allows for more effective cooperation with close partners like Australia in future peace keeping operations.
  • A progressive loosening of a self-imposed limitation on the export of defence technology. Restrictions (“Three Principles on Arms Exports”) on Japanese overseas arms transfers have been (partially) rescinded in accord with the Standards for the Overseas Transfer of Defense Equipment (2011) and Three Principles on the Transfer of Defense Technology (2014).[16] Specifically, the Defence Technology Sharing Agreement with Australia is expected to catalyse serious defense collaboration between the two partners, and Japan is engaged in the provision of amphibious aircraft to supply an India hungry for new military assets, as well as ‘capacity-building’ efforts in Southeast Asia.
  • Expression of an intention to reform the Ministry of Defense to make it a suppler and more effective body in responding to security challenges, though precise details are unclear at this stage. We await developments.

The related changes in Japanese force posture and structure are equally fundamental. Japan is committed to establishing a ‘comprehensive defense architecture.’ This includes:

  • The enunciation of a new military force posture for the Japan Self-Defense Forces. ‘Dynamic Joint Defense Force’ (previously just ‘Dynamic Defense/Deterrence’) involves large-scale redeployment of military assets, restructuring, and acquisition of new capabilities. The new defense doctrine is very explicitly designed to protect against threats to the ‘security of sea and airspace surrounding Japan,’ ‘attacks on offshore islands,’ ‘cyber-attacks,’ ‘attacks by guerrillas and special operations forces,’ ‘ballistic missile attacks,’ or other ‘complex contingencies.’[17]
  • Redeployment of units from other parts of the country (especially Hokkaido) to Japan’s vulnerable southwest island chain: the Nansei Shoto. The relocation of a fighter squadron and creation of a new Air Self-Defense Force Early Warning squadron in Okinawa and the stationing of Ground Self-Defense Force contingents on some of the remoter islands, such as Yonaguni (coast observation unit), are notable responses to the constant territorial intrusions Japan faces in this area. The stated aim is to create air superiority, as well as intelligence superiority and maritime supremacy, in affected areas of operations.
  • The restructuring of the armed forces, the guiding aim being to raise readiness, responsiveness, ‘jointness,’ and mobility of the SDF, and the placing of a greater emphasis on C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance). Significantly, a new amphibious brigade is being assembled with the chief task of recapturing remote islands. To assist with responding effectively to cyber-attacks, a new Cyber Defence Group was created in 2014 and is already engaged in exploring options for cooperation with its American counterparts.
  • Modest increases in a defence budget that has been in constant decline to accommodate some much needed hardware acquisitions. Under the MTDP Japan seeks to increase the number of destroyers from 47 to 54, including the addition of two Aegis-equipped vessels, and the number of submarines from 16 to 22, in order to retain maritime supremacy. It will seek to effect air superiority by acquiring Joint Strike Fighters, whilst still pursuing its own indigenous fifth-generation fighter programme (ATD-X Shin Shin).
  • Budgetary allocations in 2014 for a new Japan-Australia Defense Office located in the International Cooperation Bureau of the Ministry of Defense’s Defense Policy Division to support closer security cooperation with Australia.
  • A domestically permissive environment for an increased overseas security role and a more forward-leaning defence posture. Public support for the SDF is at an all-time high (due to their positive role in 3.11 disaster relief), overcoming previously lacklustre recruitment and status.[18]

Leadership Alignment

The fact that the bilateral security partnership has expanded steadily since 2005 despite two changes of government in both Canberra and Tokyo and a number of prime ministers, defence ministers and foreign ministers on each side is testament to the close alignment of security concerns and policy responses. The acceptance of the strengthening partnership by opposition parties and the broader security community in Japan and (with a few discordant voices) in Australia again reaffirms the political and diplomatic ease of this broadening security alignment and its harmony with the bilateral relationship as a whole.

However, the close political relationships developed between Prime Ministers Howard, Koizumi and Abe and their close relationships with President George W. Bush were a key and necessary political catalyst to the significant step-up in Australia-Japan security relations and the broader bilateral and trilateral strategic partnerships a decade ago. Prime Minister Howard consistently publicly referred to Japan as Australia’s closest partner in Asia and made seven bilateral visits to Japan during his 11 years in office. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto (1997) and Koizumi (2002) reciprocated. Howard’s decision to support Japan’s contribution to the war in Iraq was framed as a natural manifestation of this partnership and Australia’s long-running support for Japan to play a larger security and alliance role.

Prime Minister Koizumi focussed on the strategic importance of Australia to Japan and Australia’s undeniable place and importance in the Asia-Pacific region with Japan the most vocal supporter among the ASEAN+3 states for the expansion of the envisioned East Asia Summit beyond the ASEAN+3 states to include Australia, New Zealand and India. Prime Minister Abe who succeeded Koizumi as leader in September 2006 reinforced this message and spent political capital to commit Japan to start free trade negotiations with Australia, one of the world’s leading agricultural exporters. “In his book Utsukushii kuni e (Towards a Beautiful Country), Shinzō Abe argued that Japan needed to expand its security cooperation not only with the United States, but also with Australia and India, which share the same values, such as democracy, human rights, freedom, and rule of law.”[19]

Neither Prime Minister Rudd nor Gillard were able to develop close, sustained political relationships with their Japanese counterparts with Japan’s return, after Koizumi, to another period of revolving door prime ministers, unable to travel overseas a major contributing factor. Prime Minister Rudd visited Japan twice and Gillard once over the six years of their combined time in office. No Japanese prime minister visited Australia in this period. Prime Minister Gillard received heartfelt plaudits for being the first foreign leader to visit the stricken Tohoku area—a form of ‘koala diplomacy’ that was extremely well-received in Japan as part of Australia’s significant contribution to disaster relief under Pacific Assist.

Abe’s return to power in late 2012 and the Coalition victory under Tony Abbott in late 2013 has seen a return of a close political relationship between the two countries’ leaders. Prime Minister Abbott was repeatedly admonished by members of the opposition and wider commentariat on Australian foreign policy for his strong support of the bilateral relationship and his reference to Japan as Australia’s “best friend” in Asia and the purported damage this may cause for Australia’s relations with China.[20] Reinforcing this message, in contrast to Prime Minister Rudd, Abbott visited Japan, in April 2014, before China or the United States (or Great Britain).

Prime Minister Abe’s second-term view of Australia is no different than his first-term view, and Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit Australia in over a decade in July 2014. According to Japanese and Australian officials involved in both visits, the personal chemistry between both leaders was very good, as shown by the long hours the two spent in private, often unscheduled, discussion on both visits. Defense Minister Onodera reflected that current Japan-Australia relations are familial in their closeness and depth.[21]

Abe’s political position is much stronger in this his second term as prime minister than during his first and those of the five prime ministers that filled the chair until his return. Abe’s popularity, though declining, is stronger than during his first term when voter fatigue with the Liberal Democratic Party was pervasive. Within the party, Abe faces no serious imminent challenge and the party itself faces no serious opposition party threat. Abe’s present political position may even be stronger than Koizumi’s, as Koizumi was a party maverick and not a stalwart like Abe. This means that Abe’s personal influence on the relationship could last as long as that of Koizumi, who holds the mantle as the longest serving Japanese prime minister in the last three decades.

Already the political friendship between Abbott and Abe has borne fruit for the bilateral strategic partnership and the wider trilateral one. Last-minute interventions by both leaders during Abbott’s April visit helped seal the deal on the Japan-Australia economic partnership agreement (EPA) after seven years of negotiation. For Australia, this is a bilateral trade deal with its second-largest export market and leading source of foreign direct investment from Asia. For Japan, the trade deal with Australia is its first with a major agricultural exporter and second with a fellow OECD member and certainly required greater political courage and capital from Abe than Abbott.

Reflecting the shared trilateral concerns over growing tensions in the East and South China Seas, both Prime Minister Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have defended the language in the latest joint statement from the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue that states, “Ministers opposed any coercive or unilateral actions that could change the status quo in the East China Sea. They underlined the importance of efforts to reduce tensions and to avoid miscalculations or accidents in the East China Sea, including by improving marine communications.” For Japan, the inclusion of the term coercive is particularly important, given its defence policy’s increasing focus on assertive and aggressive “grey zone” actions, both by white-hulled armed maritime surveillance vessels and nontraditional military actions by grey-hulled naval and air force assets in the East China Sea.[22]


The synchronous nature of Australia and Japan’s defence white paper timelines, the close alignment of regional security concerns and the similar planned force structure changes provide great scope for a further alignment of security and defence policy and a further deepening of security and defence relations. The 2014 2+2 meeting pointed to a number of “options for strengthening joint exercises, enhancing people-to-people exchanges, deeper cooperation on humanitarian support and disaster relief, maritime security, peacekeeping operations and capacity building, as well as stronger trilateral security cooperation.”[23] In light of this strong shared desire for closer alignment and the overarching trilateral relationship, five policy areas from the specific to the general seem particularly suited for closer cooperation in the coming years.

Joint Training

The first-ever bilateral air combat training exercise between the Royal Australian Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force was held in 2011.[24] Underlining the importance of the trilateral relationship with the United States, this inaugural exercise took place in the United States as part of the trilateral Red Flag exercises. The number—and the numbers involved—of bilateral and trilateral training exercises is growing. Australia and Japan have held three Nichi-Go Trident (2009, 2010, and 2012) maritime exercises, while in 2013 the two armies conducted live-fire urban guerrilla warfare exercises. Given that both Japan and Australia are committed to buying similar US-built air capabilities in the future from unmanned drones to joint strike fighters and Australia’s world-class air training facilities in Northern Australia, building on these early steps in bilateral air force training would add significantly to the more advanced bilateral training exercises between the two navies and armies. Training related to coastal patrol and achieving maritime domain awareness through ISR could be important elements to future activities. Australia and Japan’s synchronous plans to develop (for Japan, above) and enhance (for Australia, through the acquisition of Landing Helicopter Deck ships) their amphibious capabilities also provides a rich new area for bilateral and trilateral training exercises.[25] The increasing numbers of US Marines rotating through Darwin under the Australia-US Force Posture Initiative (2011) will enhance Darwin’s suitability as a bilateral and trilateral training location. Japan’s continuing commitment to global peace-keeping as part of Japan’s ‘proactive contribution to international peace’ also provides, as in South Sudan presently, for greater bilateral operation cooperation and the need for joint training exercises to enhance its effectiveness.

Ballistic Missile Defence

Ballistic missile defence is an increasingly important focus of the United States and its alliance relations in the Western Pacific. Australia’s Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar facilities have long been a key element in the tracking component of inter-continental ballistic missile defence, and the recent completion of the Phase Five upgrade is part of this contribution. Japan has committed to increasing its Aegis-capable naval fleet and the recent reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution to include a limited right to collective self-defence will allow Japan to play a larger intercepting role in regional ballistic missile defence along with its existing tracking capabilities. Australia has yet to commit to bring into operation a similar sea-borne interception capability.

The Coalition in Australia has long been less ambivalent about supporting Australia investing in Aegis capabilities and contributing to sea-borne tracking and interception capabilities, and the coming Air Warfare Destroyers could be made Aegis-capable. A decision to bite the bullet on this would be the most relevant for Northeast Asian contingencies and deepening Australia’s alliance contributions in this region. As suggested by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute home porting an Aegis-equipped Royal Australian Navy ship in Guam would further enhance this contribution and this ship’s utility.[26] If the 2015 Defence White Paper continues the pattern of delay and obfuscation on Australia’s position on Aegis capabilities, then “with NATO, Japan and South Korea already committed to closer BMD cooperation, Australia runs the risk of being increasingly marginalised in US [and Japanese] eyes by its reluctance to buy into the cause of BMD.”[27]

Southeast Asia Coordination

Southeast Asia has long been a focus of Australia-Japan diplomatic alignment, including strong support for the development of ASEAN and its role in regional security cooperation in the wider Asia-Pacific. The waters of Southeast Asia link Australia to Japan, and both states have seen stability and security in Southeast Asia as key to national security. Australia and Japan also are members of key security cooperation bodies focussed on Southeast Asia including (for Australia alone) the Five Power Defence Arrangements and together the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus process, the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, the US-led Pacific Partnership and the Japan-led, Singapore-based ReCAAP.

The Japanese Coast Guard is increasingly focussed bilaterally and through ReCAAP on maritime surveillance and enforcement capacity-building, including the provision on white-hulled maritime ships to Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Australia is investing heavily in its own intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities covering maritime Southeast Asia and the resource-rich northern approaches to Australia, including replacing the P-3 Orions based in Butterworth, Malaysia, with more advanced capabilities. Australia has long shared its maritime domain awareness intelligence with Southeast Asian states and supported their development of national maritime domain awareness capabilities. To ensure optimal outcomes for Australia, Japan and Southeast Asia, Australia and Japan can coordinate more closely their bilateral and regional maritime surveillance cooperation programs in Southeast Asia. This would add a timely regional security dimension to the strategic partnership alongside the long-standing and successful regional diplomatic one.

Pacific Island Coordination

Building on the historic bilateral cooperation in East Timor since 1999, Japan and Australia share a strong interest in the security of the Pacific Islands. Prime Minister Abe became the first Japanese Prime Minister in three decades to visit the region when he arrived in Papua New Guinea in July 2014. Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper states that Australia “positions a secure South Pacific and Timor-Leste as Australia’s most important strategic interest after its own security.”[28] While bilateral aid cooperation in the Pacific Islands has long been a focus of the Australia-Japan relationship, it has delivered little in concrete terms due to the different foci and operating procedures of the two aid agencies. Japanese support, financial and in equipment terms, for Australia’s successful Pacific Patrol Boat program, given the growing links between the Royal Australian Navy and the Japanese Coast Guard and Maritime Self-Defense Force, could help overcome these long-standing interoperability problems in the Pacific Islands in an area of closely aligned interests.

Broadening and Strengthening the Base of Cooperation: Space and Cyber?

In line with the intention to build a ‘special relationship’ between Australia and Japan, the scope of the partnership needs to be broad-based and draw grass-roots support to become durable over the long term. In addition to the areas indicated above, it is worth noting the potential for cyber-security/space security and accentuated scientific-tech cooperation.[29] In the former case, an inaugural bilateral dialogue is planned that “would seek to address common cyber threats and discuss ways to strengthen regional and international cooperation.”[30] This would involve Australia’s Cyber Security Policy and Coordination Committee (CSPC)/Cyber Policy Group/Cyber Security Operations Centre in collaboration with Japan’s new Cyber Defense Group and affiliated organs, such as the National Information Security Center (NISC).[31] (Such cooperation is in train between Japan and the US at present). The partners also seek to establish a Dialogue on Space and ICT, including a Geospatial Information Project.[32]



Authors' note: The authors would like to thank sincerely the Australia-Japan Foundation for their patience and generous support. We could not have undertaken this research without either. This work can be best read as part of a trilogy on Australia-Japan relations. In 2009, the Australia-Japan Foundation supported the publication of Malcolm Cook and Andrew Shearer, “Going Global: A New Australia-Japan Agenda for Multilateral Cooperation,” Lowy Institute Perspectives, April and in 2011, Malcolm Cook and Thomas Wilkins, “The Quiet Achiever: Australia-Japan Security Relations,” Lowy Institute Analysis, January.

[1] Event: Maritime Security Challenges In Asia: Implications For Japan And Australia - Dr Ken Jimbo, 30 October 2014, https://soundcloud.com/lowy-interpreter/maritime-security-challenges-asia.

[2] Alan Rix, The Australia-Japan Political Alignment: 1952 to the Present (Routledge, 1999), and David Walton, Australia, Japan and Southeast Asia: Early Post-War Initiatives in Regional Diplomacy (Nova Science Publishers, 2012).

[3] Malcolm Cook and Thomas Wilkins, “The Quiet Achiever: Australia-Japan Security Relations,” Lowy Institute Analysis, January 2011.

[4] Greg Sheridan, “Abbott-Abe Show Could Deliver Historic Results,” The Australian, 7 July 2014.

[5] 2013 Defence White Paper (Department of Defence, 2013).

[6] The 4 October 2014 Trilateral Strategic Dialogue joint statement can be viewed at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/10/215133.htm. The 2014 Shangri-La Dialogue speeches can be viewed at https://www.iiss.org/en/events/shangri%20la%20dialogue/archive/2014-c20c.

[7] Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee, 3 October 2013, http://www.mod.go.jp/e/d_act/us/JointStatement2013.pdf.

[8] ReCAAP stands for the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.

[9] The United States followed suit and became ReCAAP’s twentieth member.

[10] Government of Japan, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2014 and Beyond (Summary) (Approved by the Security Council and the Cabinet on December 17, 2013), 2, http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/96_abe/documents/2013/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2013/12/17/NDPG(Summary).pdf.

[11] Shinzo Abe, “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” Project Syndicate, December 27, 2012, http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/a-strategic-alliance-for-japan-and-india-by-shinzo-abe.

[12] Purnendra Jain and Alex Stephens, “Japan’s Regional Engagement: Network Diplomacy,” in Japan in Decline: Fact or Fiction? eds. Purnendra Jain and Brad Williams (Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2011).

[13] Michael J. Green, “Japan Is Back: Unbundling Abe’s Grand Strategy,” Lowy Institute Analysis, December 17, 2013, 17, http://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/japan-back-unbundling-abes-grand-strategy.

[14] Thomas Wilkins, “Japan’s Grand Strategy and New Strategic Partnerships,” Tokyo Foundation, http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/articles/2014/japan-grand-strategy.

[15] Ministry of Defense, Defense of Japan 2014, http://www.mod.go.jp/e/publ/w_paper/2014.html.

[16] Government of Japan, Statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary on Guidelines for Overseas Transfer of Defense Equipment Etc. (December 27, 2011), http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/others/201112/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2012/01/31/20111227DANWA_e.pdf.

[17] Government of Japan, National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and Beyond (Approved by the Security Council and the Cabinet on December 17, 2010), 10-11, http://www.mod.go.jp/e/d_act/d_policy/pdf/guidelinesFY2011.pdf.

[18] Richard Samuels, 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan (Cornell University Press, 2013).

[19] Daisuke Akimoto, “The Japan-Australia Security Alignment: Its Development and the Implications for Regional Integration of the Asia-Pacific,” Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies 13(4), December 2013.

[20] Hugh White, “China Will Inflict Pain if Abbott Blunders On,” The Age, 24 December 2013; Raoul Heinrichs, “PM Stumbling Around the International Stage,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 November 2013; Robert Ayson, “Words Fail Australia, and Anger China, at the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue,” Lowy Institute Interpreter, 11 October 2013.

[21] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Fifth Japan-Australia Joint Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultations (“2+2”),” June 11, 2014, http://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/ocn/au/page3e_000188.html.

[22] Malcolm Cook, “US Needs Stronger Economic Rebalance towards Asia,” The Straits Times, 5 May 2014.

[23] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Fifth Japan-Australia Joint Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultations (2+2),” 11 June 2014, http://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/ocn/au/page3e_000188.html.

[24] “Australia Joins with Japan for First Bilateral Air Combat Training Exercise,” Department of Defence Media Release, 26 July 2011.

[25] Benjamin Schreer, “Japan’s Emerging Amphibious Capabilities,” ASPI Strategist, 3 June 2013.

[26] Andrew Davies and Rod Lyon, “Ballistic Missile Defence: How Soon, How Significant, and What Should Australia’s Policy Be?” ASPI Strategic Insights No. 71, May 2014, p. 13.

[27] Ibid., p. 5. Brackets added by authors of this report.

[28] Cited in 2014 Defense of Japan, http://www.mod.go.jp/e/publ/w_paper/2014.html.

[29] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Joint Press Release: Fifth Japan-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations,” 11 June 2014, http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000041606.pdf.

[30] Ibid.

[31] The ASIO-based Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) is slated for operational activation late 2014. http://www.asio.gov.au/ASIO-and-National-Security/Partners/The-Australian-Cyber-Security-Centre.html. For NISC, see: http://www.nisc.go.jp/eng.

[32] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Abe Joint Statement, “Special Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century,” 8 July 2014, http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000044640.pdf.

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