Japan and Australia Reinforce Their Defense Relationships

By Defense.info Media Team

A number of recent articles built around the meeting between the Japanese and Australian defense ministers in mid-October 2020 highlight the Japanese-Australian evolving defense relationship.

We are highlighting a number of these documents and articles in this piece.

2020 Japan-Australia Defense Ministers Kishi/Reynolds Joint Statement on Advancing Defence Cooperation

October 19, 2020
Japan Ministry of Defense
in Japanese

The Minister of Defense of Japan, Mr KISHI Nobuo, and the Australian Minister for Defence, Senator Linda Reynolds, met in Tokyo on 19 October 2020 to continue to build close bilateral defence and security ties in support of an Indo-Pacific region that is free and open, secure, inclusive and prosperous. 

This was Minister Reynolds’ second official visit to Tokyo and the Ministers’ first face-to-face meeting as counterparts. Undertaking such a meeting at this challenging time is testament to the value and strength of the Japan-Australia Special Strategic Partnership. 

The Ministers, in their commitment to build on the momentum of defence cooperation, acknowledged the strategic and practical depth of bilateral defence and security cooperation, including training and exercises, defence science and technology, and defence industry cooperation, and coordination on regional issues of shared interest. They acknowledged common objectives and drivers of cooperation, as evidenced in the two nations’ respective strategic settings. 

The Ministers shared their views on the strategic challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region, including trends accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. They noted the adverse health, economic and social impacts wrought by COVID-19 which they acknowledged would colour regional engagement in the coming period. They underscored their unwavering commitment to work closely with partners to support regional recovery and security. 

The Ministers exchanged views on regional affairs, including the East China Sea, the South China Sea and North Korea. 

The Ministers reinforced their strong opposition to any destabilising or coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions in the East China Sea. They expressed their intention to continue to coordinate closely on the security environment in this region.

The Ministers reinforced their strong opposition to any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion in the South China Sea, and reaffirmed the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight. They reaffirmed their serious concern about recent incidents, including the continued militarisation of disputed features, dangerous or coercive use of coast guard vessels and “maritime militia”, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities.

They emphasised the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

The Ministers shared their strong concern over North Korea’s repeated violation of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs), including repeated launches of short range ballistic missiles. They reaffirmed their commitment to efforts to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, in accordance with all relevant UNSCRs. They urged North Korea to fully comply with its international obligations.

The Ministers welcomed and reaffirmed their commitment to deter, disrupt, and ultimately eliminate the evasion of sanctions by North Korea, including illicit ship-to-ship transfers and direct shipments of sanctioned goods.

Reflecting on the resilience of the defence relationship, based on shared values and forged through times of shared challenge, the Ministers resolved to reinforce its momentum and to work closely together to respond to geostrategic challenges. 

The Ministers resolved to pursue all means to forge deeper links across a range of defence and security interests, as COVID-19 measures allow. Ministers concurred:

  • to enhance regular bilateral and multilateral cooperative activities in the Indo-Pacific, including maritime activities in the South China Sea, to maintain a free and open, secure, inclusive and prosperous region;
  • to enhance interoperability between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defence Force through increasing the complexity and sophistication of bilateral exercises and operations, including testing of air-to-air refuelling;
  • to continue enhancing the mutual understanding between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defence Force through people-to-people exchanges, including placement of the Australian Liaison Officer at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force;
  • to drive bilateral space and cyber cooperation in areas of mutual benefit;
  • to deepen defence science and technology collaboration, including new possible joint research in the areas of hydroacoustics and ground vehicle autonomy; and 
  • to continue to grow industry-to-industry engagement to support capability for our respective defence forces.
  • The Ministers also concurred to continue to exchange views to support recovery and promote regional peace and security including by:
  • sharing lessons learned from HA/DR operations during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • exploring new opportunities for capacity building with like-minded partners to build regional resilience;
  • sharing information and exchanging views on reinforcing the rules-based international order, including working together to counter disinformation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministers confirmed the importance of further close collaboration between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defence Force in the Indo-Pacific region. They instructed their officials to commence necessary coordination to create a framework to protect Australian Defence Force assets by the SDF personnel under Article 95-2 of the SDF Law (Provision for the protection of weapons and other equipment of the units of the U.S. Armed Forces and armed forces of other foreign countries). 

The Ministers confirmed the strategic importance of Japan and Australia finalising a reciprocal access agreement and concurred that both sides continue to make efforts towards this goal. In light of the growing bilateral defence and security relationship, the agreement will improve administrative, policy, and legal procedures to facilitate joint operations and exercises.

The Ministers reiterated their commitment to active trilateral defence cooperation and exchanges with the United States that make tangible contribution and foster cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. They also underscored the importance of cooperation with regional partners in institutional and informal settings, building habits of collaboration.

The Ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to continue working closely with Indo-Pacific partners. They reiterated their desire to work together in cooperation with Pacific Island countries in the fields of capacity building, maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, particularly where responding to priorities of the Boe Declaration on Regional Security.

The Ministers recognised that Japan and Australia would continue to coordinate closely in defence-related fora, including through their respective involvement in the Japan Pacific Islands Defense Dialogue (JPIDD) and the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM) and other relevant regional dialogues.

2020 Japan-Australia Defense Ministers Kishi/Reynolds Joint Press Announcement (Tentative)

October 19, 2020
Japan Ministry of Defense
in Japanese

Minister Kishi:

Honorable Linda Reynolds, Minister for Defence of Australia and I just concluded our meeting, marking the first face-to-face defense ministerial meeting held at Ichigaya since the spread of COVID-19.

Minister Reynolds and I had a very fruitful discussion for further promotion and materialization of Japan-Australia defense cooperation, and announced a joint statement in the names of both Ministers.

We exchanged views on important regional issues including North Korea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. We concurred to continue our close coordination by sending a clear message that we strongly oppose to any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion in the said waters.

In this context, we would like to announce that vessels of Japan and Australia, together with the United States are going to sail in the South China Sea to conduct a trilateral exercise starting from this evening till early tomorrow morning, Japan time.

In addition, we reaffirmed Japan and Australia’s continuous commitment in our efforts to achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of any of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, and to cooperate firmly on patrol activities against illicit ship-to-ship transfers in which North Korean ships are involved.

Moreover, I believe we were able to share respective views on what our defense authorities need to cooperate in the future, including measures against infectious diseases and enhancement of our interoperability. We instructed our officials to commence necessary coordination to create a framework to protect Australian Defence Force assets by the SDF personnel under Article 95-2 of the SDF Law.

Australia is our “Special Strategic Partner” in the region and Japan Ministry of Defense and Self-Defense Forces are going to deepen our bilateral defense cooperation and exchanges to uphold and reinforce the Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

Minister Reynolds:

I am delighted to be back here in Tokyo and have the opportunity to meet my new counterpart, Minister Kishi, in person, after our first virtual meeting last week. Thank you Kishi-san and Japan’s Ministry of Defense for hosting me. It is a great privilege to be in Tokyo to reaffirm the importance of our Special Strategic Partnership. I recognise the effort required to host a visit during these difficult circumstances due to COVID-19. I thank all my Japanese hosts for the rigorous COVID-19 measures put in place to make this important visit possible.

This is only my second international trip since COVID-19 restrictions began. Which is testament to the highest regard Australia holds the bilateral relationship with Japan.

Our relationship is based on trust and is also based on friendship, shared liberal democratic values, common strategic interests and also on our respective alliances with the United States.

As we face the challenges of COVID-19, our relationship is taking on even greater significance. At this time of strategic uncertainty, the need to push ahead with our shared security and our defence agenda has never been more important. I am fully committed to working with you, Kishi-san, to deepen and expand our practical defence engagement.

Closer bilateral cooperation and coordination with regional partners is vital to maintaining a free, open, inclusive and a prosperous Indo-Pacific. In this regard I also warmly welcome Prime Minister Suga’s current regional travel to Indonesia and to Vietnam. Despite the challenges the global pandemic presents, the past year has seen extraordinary growth in the Australia-Japan defence relationship.

I am pleased Australia is conducting joint exercises with Japan and with the United States Navy within international waters in the South China Sea. Activities like this contribute to regional security, and they also increase our interoperability.

At today’s meeting, Kishi-san and I discussed, and reached agreement, on a substantial range of new initiatives. These will see our bilateral defence engagement continue to go from strength to strength. We are committed to targeted and practical action to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in our region.

We are united in our shared ambition to drive defence cooperation in cyber, defence science, technology and industry. We are increasing the sophistication of our joint exercises and operations. And together, these all enhance interoperability, integration and also our joint capability. And this collaboration will be enhanced under Article 95-2 of the Self-Defense Forces Law. Kishi-san and I have asked our officials to create a framework to protect ADF assets by Japanese Self Defense Force Personnel under SDF Law.

In conclusion, Japan and Australia share a vision for a region that is open, that is inclusive, and one where the sovereignty, and the rights of all states, large and small, are respected. Australia remains committed to the goal of North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all its nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and weapons of mass destruction.

Australia and Japan are working together to enhance our defence partnerships right across Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I am so proud to be standing next to Kishi-san at the beginning of our productive and important working relationship for both our nations.

Japan and Australia to coordinate on protection of military assets

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and his Australian counterpart Linda Reynolds agreed Monday that the two countries will begin coordination to enable Japan to protect Australian military assets in noncombat situations.

The move comes as Japan and Australia are strengthening vigilance and surveillance activities amid China’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas.

The protection by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces of weapons and equipment belonging to foreign military forces became possible with the passage of new security legislation in 2015.

Australia would be the second country, after the United States, whose assets Japan would be allowed to protect under the law.

The law stipulates that SDF personnel are permitted to protect the military assets of other countries on the condition that the foreign forces are engaged in activities contributing to the defense of Japan.

“We’ll not engage in protecting (partners’ assets) at the scene of combat,” Kishi told reporters. “If it is recognized that an armed assault may occur, we’ll order the suspension of such protection.”

But a Japanese Defense Ministry official admitted that the protection could cover “gray zone” situations, such as if Australian vessels are being intimidated without an armed attack taking place.

Japan Times, October 20, 2020.

Five takeaways from the Australia-Japan defense ministers’ joint statement

In an article by Michael MacArthur Bosack published on October 22, 2020, the author identified five key teakeaways from the meeting of the defense ministers

  1. The two partners are stepping up their China game.;
  2. Japan is ready to use the Self-Defense Forces to protect Australian assets;
  3. The governments are still trying to get a reciprocal access agreement across the goal line. Japan and Australia to coordinate on protection of military assets;
  4. . Institutionalizing the security relationship;
  5. Expanding their scope to the Pacific islands.

The author, in particular, noted this important development:

The joint statement has a section that called for the placement of an Australian liaison officer within the Ground Self-Defense Force. Although details are still to be hashed out, it is a meaningful move in cementing the relationship between Australia and Japan.

With functions generally limited to coordination and communication, liaison officers are not miracle workers for a security relationship. However, their physical presence alone accomplishes so much more.

These positions offer a test bed for working through issues that could plague interoperability. Something as simple as understanding how to communicate across different information systems may seem mundane, but would otherwise be a showstopper for joint operations.

They also establish long-term, meaningful relationships that pay dividends as these officers and co-workers move up the ranks.

In short, the introduction of liaison officers puts the two countries in a position to test out what an interoperable security relationship will look like for when they decide that they want to collocate a full unit or more.

China’s provocations propel decision to include Australia in upcoming Malabar exercise

In an October 21, 2020 op ed published by Defense News, Bradley Bowman and  Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery (ret.) noted:

India announced on Monday that the Australian Navy would join the November 2020 Malabar exercise — an annual, high-end joint exercise conducted predominantly at sea that has included only American, Indian and Japanese forces in recent years. This decision, which demonstrates growing multilateral concern regarding China’s increasingly aggressive behavior, offers an opportunity for the “Quad” of democratic nations to strengthen defense cooperation and deter additional aggression from Beijing….

The announcement comes on the heels of a successful Quad foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo two weeks ago, in which each of the four democracies expressed support for a free and open Pacific. While America’s partners were more subtle, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear what was driving the closer cooperation among the four countries.

“As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the [Chinese Communist Party’s] exploitation, corruption and coercion,” Pompeo warned.

That kind of language has caused discomfort in New Delhi in the past. Japan and the United States have been open to Australia joining the Malabar exercise for several years, but India had reportedly rejected the idea in recent years due to concerns over Chinese reactions and worry that expanding the exercise “would send a political message” to Beijing that New Delhi was not prepared to send.