Reflecting the Special Strategic Partnership between Australia and Japan at a time when both are worried over the aggressive designs of China in the Indo-Pacific, the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) came into effect on August 13.
This is aimed at enabling closer cooperation between the Australian and Japanese military forces, including training, base access, and logistics.
Going by the simultaneous release of the statement from both the countries’ foreign offices, the RAA provides the legal framework for greater defense cooperation between the Australian Defense Force and the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF).
It is the first visiting forces agreement Japan has struck with any country after the United States. And Australia is the second country whose armed forces will now be allowed on Japanese soil after the US.
When it comes to practical outcomes, this Agreement will see more training and exercises between the two countries that will include, among others:
- Japanese F-35s will deploy to Australia, to RAAF Base Tindal for the first time at the end of August;
- Exercise Bushido Guardian, where Australian F-35s will be deployed to Japan for the first time in early September; and,
- Australia will participate in Exercise Yama Sakura as a full participant for the first time, with more than 150 personnel traveling to Japan in December.
According to Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles, “The Reciprocal Access Agreement will deepen the relationship between our respective defense forces, supporting closer cooperation and strengthening the capabilities of both the ADF and the JSDF. Both Australia and Japan recognize the increasing complexity of our security environment and the need to grow our partnership to support a stable and prosperous region.”
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said that “Australia and Japan share an aspiration for a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region, and this bilateral Reciprocal Access Agreement will help us deepen our defense cooperation. “The security and defense relationship between Australia and Japan is critical to both nations and is underpinned by our Special Strategic Partnership, he highlighted.
For Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, the RAA would help strengthen cooperation between the two countries. And according to Japanese Prime Minister Kishida, it is a “Landmark agreement that will bring Japan-Australia security cooperation to a new level.”
Though the RAA has now come into force, it was actually signed during the 2021 Annual Leaders’ Summit Meeting between the then Australian Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida. Both the countries felt its need, given what was said to be a combination of provocative and sustained actions emanating from Beijing, such as the economic coercion against Australia, the increased tempo of Chinese military patrols near the Senkaku Islands — administered by Japan and claimed as Diaoyu-Dao by China — coupled with increased pressure on Taiwan.
It was felt that the RAA would not only enable the deployment and training of Japanese military personnel in Australia and vice-versa but would also facilitate easier transportation of weapons and equipment for joint exercises and humanitarian missions.
Some Japanese experts say that in the absence of any NATO-like mutual defense alliance in the Indo-Pacific and the vicissitudes of US politics making future US commitments to Japan’s security unpredictable, Tokyo clearly feels vulnerable vis-à-vis China—and more recently Russia—in relation to territorial disputes and growing military assertiveness in the region, as well as the semi-regular brinkmanship of North Korea.
Australia shares similar geopolitical vulnerabilities regarding China. The RAA, in that sense, is a “minilateral” cooperation between two partners, which could later be expanded with the participation of India, it is argued.
According to Femy Francis, and Dhriti Mukherjee of the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Advanced Studies, the RAA aims to look beyond the US-led regional alliance in the Indo-Pacific.
For years the US has navigated through Asian geopolitics by influencing like-minded regional actors. It used these regional players to contest and deter countries like Russia and China. Establishing an alternative security collaboration like the RAA provides leverage for Canberra and Tokyo to negotiate with Washington and Beijing.
However, the conclusion of the RAA did come across some hurdles both in Japan and Australia that needed to be overcome. There were Australian concerns about ADF personnel stationed in Japan being hypothetically subject to capital punishment for serious crimes under Japanese law.
Many in Australia also argued that the issue of the stationing of JSDF personnel on Australian soil needed careful and sensitive handling due to lingering historical perceptions about Japan, especially the 1942 Japanese attacks upon Darwin in the Pacific War.
Francis and Mukherjee argue that the growing strategic cooperation between Japan and Australia has also an angle of mutual energy cooperation.
“With the Ukraine war, the world is facing an energy supply crisis. Japan’s energy imports are hit due to regional tensions and the contentious South China Sea. Australia is looking to find alternative buyers other than China for coal and gas to distribute export dependence beyond one country. Tokyo is one of the vital energy trading partners, with Canberra fulfilling one-third of its total energy requirements. The bilateral cooperation further aids in fulfilling the energy demand, benefiting both countries”.
Obviously, China will not be very happy with the RAA coming into force. In fact, when it was mooted in January last year, the Global Times of China carried out an analysis that termed the Agreement a formal military alliance that would inflame regional tensions.
“By signing the RAA, the strategic and military cooperation between Japan and Australia is becoming more aggressive, which will increase regional tensions and possibilities of military confrontations, bringing danger and instability to the region,” it said.
The Chinese publication quoted Zhou Yongsheng, a Professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, saying, “The RAA is one of the careful peripheral breakthroughs Japan has been making to prepare for revising its constitution, following the act of lifting of the ban on collective self-defense in 2016….Unlike the Quad, which cannot enable frequent mutual military visits, the RAA will expand the forces of Japan to the South Pacific region and promote the full coverage of Japan’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
However, according to Thomas Wilkins of the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA) and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, it is wrong to interpret the RAA as a military alliance, though it is “a further step in the progressive evolution of what has become the second most important security relationship for both Canberra and Tokyo.”
Many will agree with Wilkins.
- Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has been commenting on politics, foreign policy, on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
- CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at) hotmail.com
- Follow EurAsian Times on Google News