INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Sharif ShujaNews Weekly
Australia and Japan set to draw closer together
, March 1, 2008
Japan and Australia have sought to reassure Beijing that their expanding military cooperation is not directed against China, writes Sharif Shuja.Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies earned the nickname "Pig-Iron Bob" as a result of his insistence on exporting iron-ore to Japan in the early 1940s, despite the unions' fear that it would "come back as bombs". Later on in his career, Menzies became the first Australian Prime Minister to set foot on Japanese soil.
Since the Menzies era, Australia's relations with Japan have become much tighter and, in the last decade, there have been unprecedented levels of partnership reached between the two countries. Since the Japan-Australia Partnerships Agenda was launched in 1997, a series of bilateral meetings and treaties have seen ties blossom at a number of levels.
Australia and Japan share a long-standing relationship characterised by strong trade and investment ties, very close cooperation on regional and global issues and extensive people-to-people links. The relationship is developing in new areas, including e-commerce, services, competition policy, trade facilitation and expanded regional cooperation in response to the economic and social changes underway in both countries and the region itself.Speculation
However, the emergence of Kevin Rudd as Australia's new Prime Minister has sparked speculation that Rudd, a Sinologist, is more focused on courting Beijing than Tokyo. At the same time, Japan's new Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, is also arguably more concerned with China and Korea than with Australia. But the two leaders at least have parallel priorities; so the fact that they are less preoccupied with each other need not necessarily mean a cooling of relations.
Despite changes at the political top, Australia and Japan look set to continue drawing closer.
January 2008 saw diplomatic relations worsen briefly as Australia condemned Japan's self-proclaimed scientific whaling and the Federal Government intervened through the Australian High Court to declare the whaling illegal.
Two Sea Shepherd protesters, one of whom was Australian, were captured by the Japanese whaling-ship Yushin Maru
. However, the situation was quickly resolved when Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research ordered the ship to hand the two back to Australian Customs vessels.
The Australia-Japan relationship is based on shared democratic values, mutual respect, deep friendship and shared strategic views. Today, Japan remains Australia's largest trading partner, the biggest foreign buyer of Australian coal and the second biggest export market for iron ore.
Economic integration between the two countries has also prompted broader political and strategic changes in the bilateral relationship. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement, a landmark deal negotiated when memories of World War II were still fresh.
That agreement was revised and extended in 1963, and followed by the 1976 Nippon-Australia Relations Agreement, or NARA Treaty. Since then, relations have continued to strengthen: in 2006 Canberra hosted an inaugural trilateral security dialogue involving Tokyo and Washington.
Public opinion has tracked official policy; a 2006 Lowy Institute poll found that Australians now view Japan slightly more warmly than the United States, Australia's key ally and comrade-in-arms in World War II. Of course, a whole series of non-economic factors, including the fact that Japan, like Australia, is a close US ally, also lie behind the evolving bilateral relationship. But increased economic integration has undoubtedly helped.
One of the key dynamics in Asia today is the emergence of Japan from its post-war strategic purdah to reclaim a position as a "normal" power. Any stable strategic system in Asia must take account of the fact that Japan cannot and should not be expected to forswear forever the strategic rights and responsibilities of nationhood. That means Japan must be accorded a full place in a concert of Asia.
China seems unwilling to allow this. It disputes the legitimacy of Japan's place among Asia's major powers. That is not a sustainable long-term position if the major powers of Asia are to find a way to live in peace. Japan's immense strategic potential means that its power cannot be left out of the Asian strategic balance.
Obviously, the roots of animosity between China and Japan run deep on both sides, but they cannot be reconciled within a stable concert of Asia unless China is willing to accept and respect Japan as an equal and legitimate strategic player in Asia. That may be hard for Beijing to do.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It seems that this truth from the physical world also applies to the realm of power politics. As China realises its full strategic potential, realists have argued that countervailing coalitions will inevitably emerge. Japan's signing of a new defence declaration with Australia on March 13, 2007, reflects Tokyo's growing nervousness at Beijing's rise as a great power. But the new Asian alignments will not mean, "Whoever is not for us is against us".
Most regional actors are likely to play all sides. Given China's centrality in Asian geopolitics, "hedging" against the rise of China is becoming the most preferred option, but without sacrificing the many benefits of engaging Beijing.
The new security pact, signed during Australian Prime Minister John Howard's visit to Tokyo, is only the second such agreement Japan has concluded since the end of World War II. The pact specifies a number of areas for deeper security cooperation between the two countries, including enhanced military ties. This opens the door for Japanese troops to train in Australia.Military influence
Australia is hoping to moderate Japan's military influence in the Pacific by embedding it within a wider framework. The activities envisioned include joint exercises and training by the armed forces, exchanges of personnel, cooperation to enhance border security through law enforcement, and cooperation for peacekeeping operations.
The pact encourages greater sharing of intelligence-based assessments and also strengthens security talks; but it is not a formal security alliance of the kind that has existed for decades between the US and Japan and between the US and Australia.
Neither Japan nor Australia wants to ruffle feathers in Beijing. Both have insisted that their expanding military cooperation is not directed against China. To be sure, the bilateral Australia-Japan defence agreement would reinforce the US-Japan alliance and the trilateral security dialogue that was begun a few years ago between Washington, Tokyo and Canberra.- Sharif Shuja is a lecturer and coordinator of the subject, Issues in Contemporary Asia at Victoria University.