Australian purchase of submarines on agenda of ministerial talks in Tokyo

Ministerial meetings will include possibility of Japanese silent-running technology being shared

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 3:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 3:54am


A huge submarine deal is on the table this week when Japan and Australia meet to shore up their military relationship, as the security architecture of the Asia-Pacific region shifts to meet the challenge of a rising China.

Japan's foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, and defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, will play hosts in Tokyo on Wednesday to Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and defence minister, David Johnston.

High on the agenda will be discussions on the transfer of Japanese submarine technology to Australia, with Canberra needing to replace its fleet of subs at a reported cost of up to US$37 billion.

Australian officials are interested in the silent-running diesel-electric propulsion systems used in Japan's Soryu diesel submarines, built by Mitsubishi and Kawasaki. Those vessels would give Australia a naval force that could reach deep into the Indian Ocean.

Japan in return would secure closer security ties with Australia as Abe seeks stronger links with friendly Asia-Pacific nations to counter China's military build-up.

This could see Tokyo's technology, or even entire Japanese-built vessels, used in the fleet, in a deal that would lock the two nations together for several decades, binding their militaries with shared know-how.

The expected step comes as China's rise alters the balance of power in a region long dominated by the United States, with Beijing ever-more willing to use its might to push territorial and maritime claims.

A rash of confrontations in the South China Sea has set off ripples of disquiet in the region, as has the stand-off with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.

The worries have encouraged a relationship-building drive across Asia, with Australia and Japan, who are both key US allies, a notable pairing.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe signed a free-trade pact and a security deal in April.

Following an Australian request, Tokyo would let Johnston see Japanese submarines during his stay, Onodera said. He will be the first foreign defence minister to tour the highly sensitive craft, according to a Japanese spokesman.

The Japanese defence chief also emphasised that various "frameworks" grouping Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the US were vital in ensuring security in East Asia.

Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, said Abe's beefing up of the military industry showed the prime minister marrying his twin aims of economic and diplomatic rejuvenation.

Additional reporting by Reuters


Sports and beer diplomacy

Vietnamese and Philippine troops got together on a disputed island in the South China Sea yesterday to play soccer and volleyball, and drink beer, in a display of unity that will not go unnoticed in Beijing.

Philippine naval officials billed the event on the Vietnamese-held Southwest Cay as a chance to show the world there could be harmony in the South China Sea despite overlapping claims to the potentially energy-rich waters.

About 40 Philippine navy troops sailed to the island for the day-long event, officials said.

Coincidentally, the Philippines occupied Southwest Cay until early 1975, when troops from then South Vietnam seized it after Philippine forces sailed a couple of kilometres to Northeast Cay, which was under Manila's control, for a party. The South Vietnamese were soon displaced by the communist forces from Hanoi.

Colonel Le Xuan Thuy, a Vietnamese naval official, told troops from both sides that conditions in the region were complicated by the "unruly actions of China seriously violating international laws".

The gathering underscores the cooperation between Hanoi and Manila, the two capitals most feeling China's wrath over the South China Sea, even though both still claim Southwest Cay and dispute other islands.

The Philippines would host an event next year, officials said.