Australia’s backing for Japan’s proposed move away from a purely defensive military runs the risk of sparking resentment in China, which retains deep suspicion of the hawkish Abe government’s motives for such changes.
Beijing has already complained about the US, Australia and Japan “ganging up” on it over territorial disputes and is likely to take a dim view of Tony Abbott nominating Japan as Australia’s “closest friend” in Asia.
Addressing the Japan National Press Club, Ms Bishop said Australia supported Japan being able to play a greater role in collective security missions with Australia or other allies.
“We look forward to Japan making a greater contribution to security in our region and beyond – including through our alliances with the United States,” she said. “We support Japan’s plan to work towards a more normal defence posture to help it play that greater role.”
Japan has a large and well-equipped military, with a powerful navy, but is heavily restricted in how it operates by the pacifist constitution drawn up with US input after the end of World War II.
Ms Bishop said she was aware of how closely regional powers were eyeing Japan’s moves to change its defence posture, but said it needed greater flexibility to participate in joint operations.
“We work in partnership with Japan in many places around the world and it would be better for the region, Australia and the world for them to play a bigger role,” told The Australian after the speech. “For example, Japan and Australia were working side by side in Afghanistan. If Australians were attacked, Japan would not have been able to support us, so that’s not normal.
“It seems sensible to allow Japan to respond more appropriately and in a more normal way to collective defence measures.”
As the Abbott government strives to conclude free trade agreements with Japan, China and Korea within 12 months, defence scholar Hugh White warned in an opinion piece that China might retaliate by withdrawing from FTA negotiations if Australia continued to embrace Japan with such fervour.
Ms Bishop did not agree with Dr White’s view and said Australia could juggle relations with North Asia’s two great powers – and our largest trading partners – with a “deft” political touch.
“We value our relationship with China, we want to more broadly and deeply engage with China so it is not just seen through the prism of a resources and trading relationship, and that message is warmly received in Beijing,” she said.Source: The Australian – Julie Bishop supports Japan on defence
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