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Nikkei Editorial

Japan needs more 'quasi-allies'

Deeper ties with Australia and Southeast Asia can help keep China and North Korea in check

The Japanese and Australian defense and foreign ministers meet the press in Sydney on Oct. 10.   © Kyodo

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's guidance, Japan is striving to strengthen national security ties with Australia, India, Southeast Asian nations and other governments. These efforts come amid the chaos being created by China's military rise in regional waters and North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs. In these times of uncertainty, it is important that Japan bolster its ranks of "quasi-allies" even as it makes the Japan-U.S. security treaty the cornerstone of its security policy.

On Oct. 10, Japan and Australia held high-level security talks -- the so-called two-plus-two meetings of defense and foreign ministers -- in Sydney, with the two sides agreeing to heighten cooperation to promote what Abe has proposed as a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" strategy.

The two countries also vowed to quickly conclude negotiations on a "visiting forces agreement," which would establish the legal status of Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military when they visit either nation for joint exercises or other activities. Furthermore, the two countries plan to hold their first joint fighter jet exercises in 2019. Abe is expected to visit the northern Australian city of Darwin in November to discuss cooperation in a broad range of areas in the fields of economics and security.

Driving their moves toward closer cooperation is the increasingly active presence of the Chinese military in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Japan and Australia hold dear the concept of freedom of navigation based on the rule of law in surrounding waters, but there are signs that America's leadership role is waning under President Donald Trump.

Southeast Asia is another focus of Japan's security outreach. In addition to promoting security exchanges, Tokyo is cooperating with governments there to boost their maritime patrol capabilities. Examples of this can be seen in how Japan has begun providing patrol boats to the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. Abe has also had a series of talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi aimed at strengthening Japan-India relations by cooperating on maritime security and the development of social infrastructure.

China is eager to expand economic cooperation with Asian and African countries through the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing's global infrastructure push stretching to Europe. Some BRI-related projects, however, have shed light on problems affecting target countries -- some of which are being swarmed by Chinese companies and being weighed down by massive debts. One country that opened its doors to the BRI ended up giving China a long-term lease for a port in exchange for financing. Such cases are drawing criticism and concern from the international community. Given this new dynamic, more active engagement between Japan, Australia and India will contribute to long-term regional stability.

The Abe government is also stepping up cooperation with the U.K. and France on the development of defense equipment. Tokyo aims to deepen alliances with countries that share the same policy views, such as respect for international law, as a way to check Beijing's moves.

For the sake of a safer world, Japan needs to continue its steady efforts to deepen ties with allies and quasi-allies alike while simultaneously working to improve relations with China.

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