Defence alliance to anger China

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has used a historic address to the Australian Parliament to move the two countries closer to a strategic defence alliance in a development certain to anger Beijing.

Declaring a new Japanese ”determination” to behave as a normal nation in the international sphere following a period of being ”self-absorbed” on security matters, the hawkish PM stopped short of directly criticising Chinese territorial expansion.

But his speech left little doubt as to Tokyo’s newly activist defence posture – ditching its postwar pacifist stance – and its related desire for closer co-ordination between Japan, Australia and the US.

That will no doubt fuel suspicions in Beijing that Western powers are pursuing a containment strategy regarding China.

”There are many things Japan and Australia can do together by each of us joining hands with the United States, an ally for both our nations,” Mr Abe told the special joint sitting of Parliament.

In a subsequent press conference, held after the two leaders signed a new Economic Partnership Agreement, Mr Abe went further, describing the Tokyo-Beijing relationship as ”one of the most important bilateral relationships”, but then blaming China for a deterioration.

”The fundamental position of Japan – that we are keen to improve our relationship with China – has been fully explained to Tony [Abbott] … but we also discussed … China’s attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo.

”China along with Japan and Australia should play a greater role for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The provocative comments came as Mr Abbott pointedly praised Japan as an ”exemplary” and ”model” international citizen since 1945, despite Mr Abe also flagging the resumption of whaling.

Relations between China and Japan are at a dangerously low point, with Beijing viewing the Australian visit as part of Japan’s plan to rally its neighbours to counter China’s rise.

”In everything we say and do, we must follow the law and never fall back into force and coercion,” Mr Abe said.

China last week hit out at Mr Abe after his cabinet endorsed a reinterpretation of a constitutional clause banning the use of armed force, except in narrowly defined circumstances.

This perennial diplomatic juggling act was underlined as Mr Abbott sought to reassure Beijing that the strengthening of ties with Tokyo was ”not a partnership against anyone”.

The two leaders also signed a defence research agreement that could pave the way for Japan sharing with Australia its widely admired submarine technology.

With Philip Wen

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