JAPAN-AUSTRALIA DEFENSE PACT IN INDO-PACIFIC

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Hendra Manurung, is currently doctoral candidate of International Relations, Padjadjaran University, Bandung; Teuku Rezasyah is Associate Professor of International Relations at Padjadjaran University, Bandung.

It is not difficult to understand why Japan and Australia plan developing defense cooperation for some years previously. Most likely the factor of militarization and deployment of the Chinese navy since late December 2019 in the South China Sea is one of the main triggers.

The defense pact is confirmed to be Japan’s first agreement after 60 years to allow a foreign military presence on its territory, since the status of a defense agreement in 1960 with the United States, which allowed America to place warships, fighter jets, and, thousands of military troops on board, around the territory of Japan.

The challenges and risks posed to the global and regional geostrategic landscape, particularly by or under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the dynamics in major power relations.

At present, all countries in these regions also face non-traditional challenges such as terrorism, smuggling, natural disasters, and cybercrime, which no single country can tackle and overcome on its own, have been widely considered as common concerns by policy-makers regional leaders.

Meanwhile, ASEAN as a regional organization should to be serious on responding to current regional conditions and immediately reducing escalate tensions that may arise and lead to open conflicts. After the US presidential election on November 6, 2020, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election and will be sworn in on January 21, 2021, as the 46th US President replacing previous president, Donald Trump (45th US President, 2016-2020).

The good news of new US leadership is predicted will reduce the US and China trade war globally along with both major powers rivalries in the South China Sea and India and China border disputed conflict killed twenty and injured others, Indian soldiers, recently.

From 1967 to 2020, ASEAN as a regional organization is able to maintain regional cooperation and supposed to be remaining as the primary driving force in steering regional peace and stability to develop further as a central pillar in the evolving regional security architecture years ahead.

The defense pact between Japan and Australia was agreed upon and signed by Yoshihide Suga and Scott Morrison in Tokyo on November 17, 2020 (Kompas, 19/2/2020). The two countries have been negotiating a six-year defense agreement (2014-2020), although this agreement still needs to be ratified by both parliamentarians in Canberra and Tokyo.

This latest agreement is to facilitate more joint military operations and exercises in their respective regions. If needed in a situation of urgency, it is possible for the Japanese military to protect Australian troops and vice versa.

The pact, called the Reciprocal Access Agreement, provides a legal framework that allows troops to visit each other’s countries and conduct joint training and operations. These developments have further strengthened the defense relationship between the two US allies.

The move will also be Japan’s first agreement to include a foreign military presence on its territory since signing a troop status agreement in 1960 with the United States. Tokyo works closely with Washington D.C, enabling the US to deploy warships, fighter jets, and thousands of troops in and around Japan as part of a military alliance on a regional security home-base.

It is implemented by deploying around fifty thousand US soldiers and its 7th fleet armada. Perhaps, Australia also might be able to send two thousand to five thousand military troops, warships, and frigates to securing Japanese territories.

Japan and Australia previously established defense cooperation in 2007, a first for Japan with a country other than the US. Then in 2013, the two countries agreed to share military supplies mutually, and in 2017 the cooperation boosted to include the procurement of military ammunition after Japan then relaxed import restrictions related to the transfer of weapons equipment.

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Essentially, the two countries, Australia and Japan indeed do not explicitly mention China’s presence in the region as a major and real threat in the Defense Pact. However, this defense agreement was carried out to strengthen both countries’ defense cooperation in response to the expansion of China’s military presence in the East China Sea, South China Sea, Hong Kong, and beyond. Obviously, these two countries are targeting China.

In the South China Sea, Beijing has been accused of militarization in disputed territorial waters, while in the East China Sea, Japan and China have disputed over ownership of the island of Senkaku. On the other hand, Canberra is also arguing with Beijing over restrictions on the export of a number of Australian exporting products to China.

As with other defense pacts, this agreement is a right and part of state sovereignty to maintain regional peace and security and the survival of their national interests in the region.

However, if in the end, this defense pact will lead to the deployment of military force, then of course this can create tension in the situation and can trigger an escalation of open conflict in the Asia Pacific region.

Previously, the Japanese government had stepped up defense under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, by purchasing stealth fighters and other modern military weapons, as well as encouraging Japanese military cooperation and adjusting the compatibility of military weapons with America.

In addition to discussing the defense pact between Japan and Australia, they also discussed cooperation in overcoming the coronavirus and hydrogen technology. Japan aims to become the third-largest carbon-free economy by 2050.

During the meeting, Morrison also discussed energy and climate change with Japanese businessmen and indicated that carbon capture and storage and low-emission technologies would be part of the domestic solution. Australia has agreed to achieve zero carbon emissions within the stipulated time.

Morrison has rejected calls for a 2050 target, vowing to do so when it can explain the economic costs to the Australian people. Australia is heavily dependent on coal and gas exports. Korea, the US, and the UK have designated 2050 as zero carbon emissions as the UK has urged Australia to reduce carbon emissions.

During his visit, Morrison also met with the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, who is trying to push Queensland to host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2032.

Japan and Australia are currently having a less than harmonious relationship with China. With Japan relations deteriorated due to Japan’s wartime territory of China and sovereignty dispute in Senkaku, a chain of islands in the East China Sea regions known as Diaoyu in China. The Japanese administered the island; however, Chinese military surveillance ships were frequently near the island. Meanwhile, Australia clashed with China over Prime Minister Morrison’s appeal in April 2020, explicitly asking for a thorough comprehensive transparent investigation into the global outbreak of the coronavirus and upsetting China to continue with restrictions on imported products from Australia.

Japan has embarked on a vision of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” of economic and security cooperation as opposed to Chinese influence, and recently Japan hosted foreign ministerial discussions among countries known as the “Quad” which consists of from America, Australia, and India.

These four countries are trying to invite countries from Southeast Asia and its surroundings to reduce the expansion of Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

This bamboo curtain country defends its decisions and behavior in regional seas as peaceful actions and denies violating international rules and deliberately ignores the 1982 UNCLOS. China also considers the formation of the Quad as the embryo of NATO birth in the Asia Pacific which aims to fight it frontally.

Warships and aircraft from the four “Quad” countries kick off the annual joint military exercise Malabar in the Bay of Bengal, India on November 3, 2020.

The joint military exercise is being carried out less than a month since mid-October 2020 following a highly symbolic Quad meeting in Tokyo with foreign ministers from the four most powerful democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia is rejoining the exercise for the first time in 13 years, since its participation in 2007.

The Malabar exercises are not officially linked to the Quad forum, but they are clearly a counterweight to Beijing’s expanding military and political influence in the region.

The Quad’s joint military exercises in Malabar have the veiled intention of thwarting Chinese influence.

The military activity is divided into two phases, namely the first phase starting from 3 to 6 November 2020, followed by the second phase at the end of November.

These military exercises also include anti-submarine and anti-aircraft practical exercises designed to improve interoperability between the military forces of the four nations.

This joint Malabar military exercise certainly provides an opportunity for the navies of the four like-minded nations, sharing a common vision of a more stable, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific, to operate and train together in achieving regional stability.

To conclude, it is still relevant to highlight ASEAN’s role in the meeting involving these countries to keep reminding those intentional ambitions, that, as stated in the ASEAN Chairperson’s Statement at the last Summit 2020, “not to use threats or force” in resolving problems in the region. When talking about ASEAN and optimizing its influence, Indonesia clearly is still recognized as prioritizing a major role among global major powers.

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