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International relations

Japan, Australia agree to keep pressure on North Korea

Abe bolstering defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speak to reporters after their summit in Tokyo on Thursday.

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull agreed Thursday to continue exerting maximum pressure on North Korea, demonstrating unity amid growing regional tensions over the country's nuclear development.

"Despite the ongoing North-South talks, North Korea is continuing to develop nuclear and missile weapons and the situation is actually worsening," Abe said at their summit in Tokyo. "There can be no stability in the Asia-Pacific without denuclearization."

Although North Korea is engaged in a dialogue with the South ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, it has made no concessions on its weapons program. Abe's remark seemed to be a warning against the conciliatory mood in Seoul, as well as a call for continued pressure on Pyongyang. Turnbull denounced the rogue state at a joint news conference with Abe following the summit.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate on Abe's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy," which is designed to help growth in Asia and Africa and curb Chinese influence in these regions. And in order to bolster the joint exercises by Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military, Abe and Turnbull will work to sign a new treaty as quickly as possible to ensure future drills go smoothly.

The countries are partners in advancing free trade and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region, Turnbull said.

The not-quite allies

Abe is looking to bolster Japan's ties with its "quasi-allies" like Australia in the face of growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and China's expansionism in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. That the U.S. is increasingly turning inward under President Donald Trump adds to his concerns.

"A greater security and defense partnership between Japan and Australia will directly contribute to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region," Abe told Turnbull on Thursday. He even invited the Australian leader to a special session of Japan's National Security Council, and showed him a drill of a special SDF team trained to rescue Japanese citizens overseas, among other missions. Turnbull is the first foreign leader to be shown these exercises.

Abe and Turnbull also agreed to pursue a stronger trilateral security partnership with the U.S., as well as a four-way framework with India, which Japan hopes will help curb its dependence on the U.S. for defense.

These partnerships fall in line with Abe's Indo-Pacific strategy. His goal of protecting the rule of law and the market economy in the Pacific and Indian oceans depends on trilateral cooperation with Australia and India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to work with Abe on his strategy at a November summit.

Abe and Turnbull have also agreed to finalize a revised version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the deal's nine other remaining members as quickly as possible. They are looking to bolster bilateral ties through both security and economic channels.

Meanwhile, Abe is also eyeing closer relations with the U.K., another "quasi-ally." When British Prime Minister Theresa May visited Japan in August, she toured the Izumo helicopter carrier and attended an NSC meeting.

(Nikkei)

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