Australia, Japan to deepen defence ties after historic Darwin visit
Australia hailed a “deeply symbolic” visit to Darwin by the Japanese Prime Minister on Friday, more than 75 years after the northern city was bombed in World War II, as the two countries vowed to deepen defence ties in the face of an emergent China.
Trade and strategic relations took centre-stage at a meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Shinzo Abe during his two-day visit, before both travel to Papua New Guinea for the weekend’s APEC summit.
In a communique, they expressed hope an agreement on enhanced defence cooperation that includes joint military exercises and which the two countries have been discussing for several years would be concluded by early next year.
“Prime Minister Morrison and I confirmed our commitment to further deepen this special strategic partnership between Japan and Australia,” Abe told reporters in Darwin via a translator.
“Our common vision is of a free and open Indo Pacific, in the area of security we agreed to deepen our security and defence cooperation.”
Abe said they discussed regional strategic issues including maritime security in Southeast Asia and the Pacific island nations, and the denuclearisation of North Korea.
The two nations and the US signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States earlier this week to increase investment in the south-west Pacific, amid increased Chinese military and economic activity in the region.
– ‘Vow towards peace’ –
Abe is the first Japanese leader to visit the port city where more than 250 people were killed during multiple bombing raids in 1942-43 during World War II — the worst-ever foreign attacks on the country.
The pair paid their respects at memorials to the war dead in an act reminiscent of the Japanese leader’s visit to Pearl Harbor in 2016.
“Prime Minister Abe’s visit is deeply symbolic and significant and it will build on our two countries’ strong and enduring friendship as well as our economic, security, community and historical ties,” Morrison said in a statement.
The Japanese leader said he “renewed my vow towards peace” and extended his condolences to all fallen soldiers.
Veterans described the wreath-laying in a ceremony at the Darwin Cenotaph as moving.
“To see the Japanese prime minister here actually laying a wreath on our war memorial, it is a quite emotional thing. It is amazing that in 70 or so years we’ve come this far,” one veteran told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
On Saturday, Abe will also remember Japanese casualties when he visits a cenotaph for navy personnel who died when the I-124 was sunk by HMAS Deloraine in January 1942 — the first Japanese submarine to be sunk by an Australian ship.
– Close economic ties –
Abe was to attend a ceremony marking the opening of a US$34 billion pipeline project, in which Japan’s Inpex is the majority shareholder and operator, later Friday.
The Ichthys LNG project — Japan’s largest overseas investment — began shipping natural gas to Japan last month and is set to reinforce Australia‘s position as the country’s main energy supplier.
The operation taps fields off Australia‘s northern coast and pipes the gas nearly 900 kilometres (550 miles) to a port near Darwin.
Meanwhile, Japan and Australia have played leading roles in reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after President Donald Trump withdrew US support for the agreement.
Canberra and Tokyo also both recently launched Pacific infrastructure projects to offer alternatives to Beijing’s so-called Belt and Road initiative, which has seen China pour billions of dollars of investment into the area.
The regional competition was on full view Friday as Abe’s Darwin visit coincides with a mini-summit organised by Chinese President Xi Jinping with seven Pacific island leaders in Papua New Guinea ahead of the APEC conference.
Source : AFP