the-japan– With an eye on China’s maritime advances, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison agreed to strengthen cooperation on achieving a “free and open Indo-Pacific” at a Tuesday meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The leaders came to a general agreement on a pact to streamline ties between the Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military, such as during joint exercises.
This was Suga’s first meeting with a foreign leader in Japan since taking office. The meeting lasted for nearly 2½ hours, including dinner. Suga and Morrison spent about 20 minutes speaking privately, with only interpreters present.
Suga said at the meeting: “Australia and Japan are special strategic partners who share fundamental values and strategic interests. The importance of this will only continue to grow.”
Morrison responded that as “like-minded” nations, Japan and Australia have a special responsibility in the Indo-Pacific region.
In a joint statement, the leaders said a “two-plus-two” meeting of their foreign and defense ministers would be held early next year.
The pact is centered around simplifying procedures for bringing in weapons and ammunition when one side’s forces spend time in the other country, such as for joint exercises. This is a type of visiting forces agreement that defines the legal status of personnel, and if signed would be Japan’s first.
Other stipulations cover crimes committed by a member of one country while in the other. If this occurs, authorities in the country where the crime was committed would be able to detain the person even before issuing an indictment.
The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement allows the United States to keep U.S. soldiers who were detained by the U.S. side in their custody until an indictment is issued, in principle.
Both countries are expected to accelerate efforts so the pact can be signed quickly.
“The pact reinforces our nations’ intention to contribute to peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region,” Suga said at a joint press conference.
The agreement comes against a background of alarm over China’s domineering behavior in the South and East China seas.
At the meeting, the leaders also discussed strengthening economic ties, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which was signed by Japan, Australia and 13 other countries on Sunday. The prime ministers agreed to work toward getting the accord into force quickly.
Regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic, reforms of the World Health Organization were also on the agenda, with the Australian side expressing hope that Japan would cooperate in the effort.