Scott Morrison to talk up Australian hydrogen in first meeting with new Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga

Scott Morrison to talk up Australian hydrogen in first meeting with new Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga

Australia and Japan have been negotiating the defence reciprocal access agreement since 2014, with the key sticking point being the possibility of Australian Defence Force personnel facing the death penalty for crimes such as rape and murder while serving in Japan.

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The in-principle deal will set out administrative and legal procedures for Australian and Japanese forces, including the use of military bases and conduct during joint exercises.

The proposed agreement is vital if the two countries are to increase their military co-operation, including in the South and East China Sea. It will be the first agreement covering a foreign military presence in Japanese territory since the 1960 Status of Forces Agreement with the United States.

China’s militarisation of the South China Sea and its incursion into Japanese territory in the East China Sea has been a growing concern for Australia and Japan.

Mr Morrison, who is flying from Melbourne on Monday night, will become the first world leader to meet with the new Prime Minister in Japan. He is due to return on Wednesday morning.

Mr Morrison’s meeting with Mr Suga and a signing a ceremony for the new defence pact are expected on Tuesday night. While the bilateral meeting between the two leaders will be dominated by security, Mr Morrison is also likely to raise the hydrogen push.

Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, said the meeting was a chance to affirm that Mr Suga was just as proactive in Indo-Pacific diplomacy as his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

With the US election of President-elect Joe Biden, Professor Medcalf said the growing defence relationship between Australia and Japan could be used to complement the presence of the US in the Pacific.

While Australia welcomed Donald Trump’s more assertive stance towards Beijing, the US President regularly unsettled American allies such as Japan and South Korea by demanding they pay billions more for a US troop presence.

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“Australia and Japan really are the strongest bilateral pillar in the region that prepares the ground for American re-engagement under Biden,” Professor Medcalf said.

“In the post-Trump era – this will work to support and sustain a US presence, it won’t be an insurance policy against fears of America being unreliable.

“China should not be surprised that the Australia-Japan relationship continues to strengthen because China’s actions have done so much to strengthen the relationship.”

Michael Shoebridge, director of the defence program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Japan would not have to worry about the possibility of the US withdrawing troops, and could instead have “more positive co-operation with partners like Australia and the big alliance partner America”.

“This is part of the recognition that even post-Trump, expectations that America is the single answer to the region’s security are misguided,” Mr Shoebridge said. “Japan knows, just like Australia knows, that’s just not right. America’s power is essential but insufficient by itself.”

He said the agreement on how Australian and Japanese troops interacted would be a “real enabler for bigger things”.

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