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     Mar 15, 2007
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The emerging axis of democracy
By Hisane Masaki

TOKYO - In a move very likely to alarm China, Japan and Australia have signed a historic joint security declaration calling for closer cooperation on terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, disaster relief, and peacekeeping.

This is Japan's second bilateral security deal, the other being the Japan-US Security Treaty dating back about half a century. The Japan-Australia pact is seen by many observers as underscoring a looming US-Australia-Japan axis of democracy, primarily aimed

at keeping in check China, a rapidly ascending military as well as economic power in the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite strong domestic criticism, both Tokyo and Canberra have strongly supported the US-led war in Iraq by dispatching troops there. The Japan-Australia security pact is seen by some as being partly aimed at diluting the widespread public impression in both countries that their leaders focus too much on their alliance with the US.

At their meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday evening, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart, John Howard, signed the security pact, which specifically calls for close intelligence sharing and joint military exercises for disaster relief and United Nations peacekeeping operations. The document also stipulates the establishment of so-called ''two plus two'' ministerial security talks comprising foreign and defense ministers from the two countries, similar to those each already has with the US.

The two leaders also pledged in the joint declaration that they will coordinate policies over North Korea and cooperate in dealing with the threat of the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Japan and Australia are active participants in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at preventing the smuggling of such weapons, missiles and parts.

An action plan on measures for cooperating on disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and maritime and aviation security, as well as cracking down on international crime such as drug trafficking, was part of the deal. Nor were economics forgotten. Abe and Howard had agreed during telephone conversations last December to launch negotiations on a free-trade agreement; on Tuesday, they agreed to expedite those negotiations.

Since taking office last September, Abe has advocated a more assertive foreign policy and a stronger security alliance with the United States. He has also vowed to seek revisions of the post-World War II pacifist constitution to allow the nation to play a greater role in the international security arena. The Japan-Australia security pact also apparently reflects Canberra's desire to exert more influence with the security the region as well as its economy.

"Prime Minister Howard and I agreed that the joint declaration offers a framework for concretely stepping up security ties between our two countries," Abe told a joint press conference after the signing. Howard added: "The declaration ... is [a] further mark of the trust and cooperation between us."

In a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma earlier in the day, Howard said there is no country with which Australia has closer relations than Japan, except the US, and stressed the importance of increased cooperation among the three countries. In addition to being close US allies, Japan and Australia are major market economies and democracies. The three countries share common strategic viewpoints, Japanese and Australian officials say.

Referring to the setting-up of the "two plus two" security talks of Japanese and Australian foreign and defense ministers, Howard also told Kyuma that Australia is engaged in a similar form of talks only with the US and Britain and stressed the importance of such dialogue.

In his meeting with Japanese leaders, Howard said he strongly backs Japan's tough stance on North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to train communist spies. Despite the recent deal on the North Korea nuclear standoff, Japan has refused to join the other participants in the six-party talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear-weapons program in offering energy aid to Pyongyang.

At the outset of the Japan-Australia security declaration, Abe and Howard reaffirmed that "the strategic partnership between Japan and Australia is based on democratic values, a commitment to human rights, freedom and the rule of law, as well as shared security interests, mutual respect, trust and deep friendship" and stated that they are committed to "the continuing development of their strategic partnership to reflect shared values and interests".

Security cooperation between Japan and Australia has been increasing in recent years. Australian forces were in charge of maintaining the security in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, where some 600 Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (SDF) personnel were stationed on a non-combat mission until last summer.

Australian forces, along with US ones, also cooperated with the SDF in relief operations after the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake off Sumatra in December 2004. But Japan and Australia have yet to conduct a joint drill.

At the outset of their meeting, both Abe and Howard cited the cooperation between Japan and Australia in Iraq as an example of close interaction and support between the two nations in security issues. "We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for the support Australia gave our ground troops in Iraq," Abe said. Howard replied that Australian forces were impressed 

Continued 1 2 

The strengthening Japan-India axis (Mar 6, '07)

Japanese PM sets out on a new-year mission (Jan 9, '07)


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