Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, have announced a partnership between the two national space agencies, promoting greater co-operation in defence, national and regional security and space science, research and education.
As Australia's closest and 'most mature' partnership in the region, the Australia-Japan partnership has undergone several evolutions throughout its life since it was established in a formalised Commerce Agreement in 1957.
The latest of which comes as the post-Second World War economic, political and strategic order appears to be in tatters, beset on all sides by great power rivals, the impact of COVID-19 and broader global trends each serving to impact the security and sovereignty of both nations.
While there are a number of marked differences between the two, both Australia and Japan share similar realities, island nations, dependent upon the benevolence of the global order, free, unencumbered access to the maritime commons and robust, collaborative alliances and partnerships.
Despite its relative isolation, Australia's position as a global trading nation, entrenched in the maintenance and expansion of the post-Second World War order has left the nation at a unique and troubling cross roads, particularly as its two largest and most influential “great and powerful” friends, the US and the UK, appear to be floundering against the tide of history.
Nowhere is this more evident than across the Indo-Pacific as an emboldened Beijing continues to punish Australia for pursuing a global inquiry into the origins and China's handling of COVID-19, while also leveraging the comparatively diminished presence of the US military in the region to project power and intimidate both Japan and Taiwan.
In response, Japan has closely followed the modernisation of the Chinese armed forces and raised concerns about the nation’s defence capabilities. The Japanese government has responded with an unprecedented defence budget, which provides opportunities for Australian industry.
The pre-war power has long sought to shake off the chains of the pacifist constitution enforced upon it by the US, UK, Australia and other allies following the end of the war in the Pacific.
However, Japan's geo-strategic realities have rapidly evolved since the end of the Cold War, when the US could effectively guarantee the security of the island nation.
As a result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison in collaboration with his Japanese counterpart, Abe Shinzo, has sought to bring the already strong relationship between the two nations closer together, with the joint statement saying:
"The leaders acknowledged that Japan and Australia’s mutual economic security and prosperity depends on secure and reliable supply chains for critical goods and services. In this context, they emphasised the need to strengthen bilateral cooperation on cyber security, critical technology and energy and natural resources sectors, to ensure secure and resilient critical infrastructure and systems of national significance.
"Critical minerals and communications such as 5G involving companies from Japan and Australia were a particular focus.”
Expanding on this, the joint statement highlighted the two countries’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific, "The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to support the Indo-Pacific, in particular their Pacific and Southeast Asian neighbours, to manage the impacts of the pandemic and support health security, economic recovery and sustainable development.
"This effort includes providing medical supplies and equipment, strengthening partner country health systems, promoting disaster and emergency preparedness and economic resilience and recovery, and accelerating the development and equitable delivery of new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19.
"The leaders committed to continue strengthening their co-operation with Pacific island countries in response to COVID-19, including by providing support for health systems through the Essential Services and Humanitarian Corridor and economic assistance.
"The leaders reiterated their commitment to support Indo-Pacific infrastructure needs, including through the Papua New Guinea Electrification Partnership and the Trilateral Infrastructure Partnership, in accordance with international standards such as the ‘G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment’. They welcomed Japan’s COVID-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support Loan of approximately ¥500 billion and ¥53 billion of bilateral Grant Aid for provision of medical equipment to developing countries, as well as Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response."
This builds on a statement in the recently released 2020 Defence Strategic Update, which highlights the importance of the relationship between the two nations: "Habits of co-operation in the Indo-Pacific are being challenged, leading to uncertainty and complicating security partnerships.
"This is why Defence will continue to work to strengthen defence and diplomatic ties with the countries in Australia’s immediate region, working alongside important partners such as the United States, Japan and New Zealand.
"Australia engages multilaterally, such as with the United Nations, and through bilateral partnerships such as our Special Strategic Partnership with Japan and our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with India, to support shared interests in global rules and norms. Australia also works with smaller groups of like-minded countries, such as the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue between Australia, Japan and the United States, to address common strategic issues."
Supporting the statements outlined in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update, the joint statement demonstrated the growing resolve of both nations to resist militaristic expansionism in the Indo-Pacific: "The leaders reconfirmed their strong opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions that could alter the status quo or increase tensions in the East and South China Seas.
"They expressed serious concern about recent negative developments in the South China Sea, including the continuing militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous and coercive use of coast guard vessels and ‘maritime militia’, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities, in particular under the current circumstances where regional cooperation has become more important due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The leaders reaffirmed that freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea must be respected, and that all disputes should be resolved in a peaceful manner in accordance with international law, as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
"They also reiterated the importance of full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, noting that where binding legal judgements have been rendered, the parties have an obligation to abide by them avoiding any arbitrary interpretation, in particular the South China Sea Arbitration. They called for any Code of Conduct for the South China Sea to be consistent with international law, as reflected in UNCLOS."