At the annual Australia-Japan Leaders Meeting held in Perth, Australia on Oct. 22, 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation (JDSC), which envisages working together to combat contingencies that could affect their country’s sovereignty in the face of China’s increasing activities in the Asia-Pacific region. In JDSC signed for the first time in 15 years, the two countries agreed to deepen and expand their trilateral security ties with the United States, while committing to increase their practical defense engagements. Kishida and Albanese also affirmed the significance of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). In JSDC, both countries commit to consulting with each other if the two countries face potential security threats, which significantly enhances their defense cooperation. The updated declaration sort of sets the roadmap of bilateral relations for the next ten years.
The relative decline in the power of the US as the only surviving superpower of the post-Cold War era and the rise in China’s economic and then military power and political influence caused a transformation in the geopolitical strategic environment of the Asia-Pacific region. Among the countries most affected by this transforming new strategic environment, Japan and Australia began to see each other as natural partners in order to calm their concerns about entrapment or abandonment by their traditional ally the US and to develop a more independent security stance because in the first two decades after the Cold War, the US’s interest was mainly on the developments in the Middle East.
In this way, Tokyo and Canberra evaluated that cooperation would contribute to the improvement of regional security with a Partnership Agenda they concluded in 1997. In 2003, this cooperation was taken one step further with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Exchanges between the armed forces of the two countries, which includes counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation and the acceleration of bilateral exercises and so on.
However, one of the most important stages of the Japan-Australia strategic partnership came with the signing of the JDSC in 2007. Developing such a security cooperation with the full support of the US, the two countries thought that their cooperation would affect the shaping of regional security architecture. For Australia, Japan could have played a broader role in shaping a regional security order that Australia could accept in the Asia-Pacific. Japan, on the other hand, saw it as the precondition for shaping a regional security system with Australia, India and other democratic Asian countries in its own best interests, and the JSDC symbolized the coming age of Japan.
Security cooperation and strategic partnership between Tokyo and Canberra took a more institutional basis with the signing of the Action Plan for the implementation of JDSC in 2009 and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement in 2010. The years 2014 and 2015 emerged as very important years in terms of the level of bilateral relations, because in 2014 the form of bilateral relations changed from a strategic partnership to a new special relationship, and in 2015 from a new special relationship to a special strategic partnership.
The FOIP strategy announced by Japan in 2017 has also added a new dimension to bilateral relations since though Australia has not yet validated Japan’s FOIP strategy, Japan has gained the support of Australia to a significant extent. In this context, they continue to cooperate with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries on capacity-building efforts in maritime security and other areas. Both countries share the FOIP vision for the continuation of free, open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific existence.
A new dimension of the continuing security cooperation of the two countries has been the protection of Australian navy ships by Japan in the Pacific Ocean. Thus, Japan became the second country after the US to make such a commitment to protect Australia.
Security cooperation reached a new high with the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) in January 2022. The agreement aims to facilitate the deployment of troops for joint exercises and relief operations. The parties are discussing steps toward the implementation of a bilateral RAA. Perhaps, towards the end of this year or at the beginning of the next year, they will determine a concrete roadmap. There is no commitment to defend each other for now. But it is still significant because for the first time other than the US, soldiers of another country will be deployed to Japan.
In summary, the strategic partnership and security cooperation that started to develop in the midst of new conditions created by the post-Cold War international environment continues to develop with various summit meetings, declarations and agreements between the two countries. Today, security cooperation between Japan and Australia is the most advanced and institutionalized in the region after their alliance relations with the US. For Japan, Australia is the second closest security partner after the US while Japan is Australia’s second security provider/guarantor. Both are members of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue consisting of Australia, India, Japan and the US, and of Trilateral Security Dialogue including Australia, Japan and the US. Although there is a kind of semi-alliance air of Japan-Australia security cooperation, there is a possibility that it will lead to an alliance. That’s why the Japanese usually define the relationship as semi-allied for now.
[Photo by Cabinet Public Relations Office, Japan, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Oktay Kucukdegirmenci is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of International Politics in Shandong University, China.