November 18, 2020: Australian and Japan on November 17 agreed ‘in principle’ to sign the long awaited Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced an “in-principle” RAA Tokyo.
The RCA is a defence pact which is expected to intensify military cooperation between the two countries. The agreement is expected to streamline activities such as joint military training exercises, natural disaster and humanitarian support of the two countries. Japan has a similar agreement with only one other country, the US. The agreement was six years in negotiation and will provide a legal and administrative framework for both forces visiting the other country.
“It will facilitate greater and more complex practical engagement between the Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and enhance our inter-operability and cooperation. This will also support our joint involvement in broader multilateral exercises,” said Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a statement.
The agreement is being considered as a major step in strategic relations between Australia and Japan, key actors in Indo-Pacific. Mr Morrison hailed the agreement as “pivotal moment in the history of Japan-Australia ties”.
The growing Chinese presence in the Indo-Pacific has forced countries to evaluate their security concerns. China has also made vast territorial claims in both the East China Sea and South China Sea. China’s claims are disputed by Japan and numerous South-East Asian littoral countries.
In a joint statement released on November 17, both Australian and Japanese leaders expressed deep concerns over the situation in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Mr Scott Morrison in his statement referred to the agreement as “a key plank” in response to “increasingly challenging security environment” in the region. The agreement is also significant since both countries are also part of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) along with India and the US. The Quad aims to counter China’s influence in the Indo Pacific.
Japan’s Prime Minister Mr Suga also reiterated his resolve to work closely with Australia to secure “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
He said, “I am glad that agreement in principle has been reached on the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement we have been negotiating in order to raise our two countries’ security and defense cooperation into a new dimension. I will continue to work in close cooperation towards the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific together with Prime Minister Morrison, a friend with the same resolve.”
The pact does not need to be approved by the Australian Parliament, but it will need to be approved by Japan’s parliament.