Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is planning a visit to Australia next week to discuss defence and security in the Indo-Pacific, amid China’s rising military ambitions in the region.
During the trip, which diplomats said has been decided after intensive negotiations in the past few days, Kishida and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison are expected to formally sign the Reciprocal Access Agreement — a landmark defence treaty both countries agreed to in principle in November 2020.
A Japanese government official confirmed that regional security, including defence issues, would be top of the agenda in talks between the two leaders. Other people briefed on the organisation of the visit said that the Japanese side also seeks to bring a “limited” trade delegation to discuss further investment in Australia and supply chain security.
The visit to Australia will be Kishida’s first overseas summit meeting since he became prime minister in October. He attended the Cop-26 meetings in the UK starting in October and had originally planned to keep with a long tradition of Japanese leaders by making the US president the first foreign leader he would formally visit.
The expected signing of the RAA comes against a background of heightened military and diplomatic tensions in the Asia Pacific region, as Tokyo, Canberra and others respond to a more assertive China and what many defence analysts view as the increasing risk of conflict over the Taiwan Strait.
“Australia, like Japan, is a member of the Quad [together with the US and India] and it has trade disputes with China,” said the Japanese government official, explaining the significance of Kishida choosing Australia as his first foreign visit for a summit.
The RAA, aimed at facilitating increased co-operation between the Japanese self-defence forces and the Australian defence force, allows the deployment of forces “more quickly and with less administration,” according to the announcement by the Australian government in November 2020. Australia will be the second country after the US to make such an agreement with Japan.
The deal will follow a decision by Canberra to strike a far-reaching defence alliance with the US and the UK in September, also designed to counter China’s ambitions in the region.
Earlier this week, Japanese officials reported that the Japanese and Chinese defence ministers had, on a two-hour phone call, agreed to set up a military hotline to help defuse potential communications crises arising in the waters and skies between the two countries.