FUNABASHI, Japan, Jan 18, 2018 (AFP) – The prime ministers of Japan and Australia toured a military training ground outside Tokyo Thursday, as the two countries seek to bolster defence ties in the face of the North Korean crisis.
Malcolm Turnbull and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe are hoping to thrash out a security agreement on joint defence operations and exercises, with one eye also on China as it expands its naval ambitions.
Diplomats are putting the finishing touches to the proposed defence pact, which would be the first of its kind for Japan and would make Australia Tokyo’s closest military partner after the United States.
The pact would reportedly lay the ground for Japanese military exercises out of Darwin, the northern Australian city heavily bombed by Japan in World War II.
“The (military) agreement, when concluded, will be a pillar of the Japan-Australia security cooperation,” said a Japanese diplomat ahead of the talks.
Both sides say boosting military cooperation is vital given the tense situation in the region, with North Korea’s missile program bringing the world closer to nuclear conflict than at any time since the Cold War.
China’s steady expansion of its military and economic influence in Asia Pacific has also encouraged Japan and Australia to draw closer militarily.
Standing in front of Australian-made military equipment used by the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, Turnbull urged the international community to keep up the pressure on North Korea.
“We have to maintain those sanctions – that is the only way we will achieve bringing of this reckless and rogue regime back to its senses.”
The prime minister added that the global community should be “very clear-eyed” about the recent lull in tensions between the two Koreas.
“History tells us a very bitter lesson about North Korea. They have a long habit of ratcheting up their militarisation and then going into a lull for a while, trying to persuade people they are changing their ways, changing nothing and then ratcheting up again,” he said.
During his one-day visit, Turnbull will attend a special session of Japan’s National Security Council and visit Tokyo train station, one of the world’s busiest.
“We have heard the prime minister is a big fan of public transport,” the Japanese official said.
Also on the agenda for Turnbull is a meeting with Japanese business leaders as well as Tokyo police officials to discuss general counter-terrorism efforts ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The two men will also discuss economic ties, with a joint push to eventually sign a vast Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.