Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday Australia’s closer ties with Tokyo would not hurt relations with China after a successful and productive visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
During Abe’s two-day trip, in which he became the first Japanese leader to address the Australian parliament, major free trade and security deals were sealed, including the sharing of defence technology.
China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and has been restrained in any reaction, although its state media hit out at Abbott’s “appalling” speech to parliament.
During the address, the Australian leader honoured the courage of Japanese submariners during the second world war.
Abbott, who repeatedly during Abe’s trip referred to their “special” relationship, said there was room for bilateral ties with both Japan and China to blossom.
“The point I make is that when it comes to international friendships, it is not a zero sum game. It is possible to strengthen a range of friendships simultaneously,” he said when asked by reporters if ties with Beijing had been hurt.
“We want a better friendship with Japan, and I think pretty obviously we are getting that, but we also want a better friendship with China.
“We are working on a free trade deal with China, I am still reasonably optimistic we will succeed there. We want better friendships with everyone,” he added.
His comments came as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia was not afraid to stand up to China to defend peace and the rule of law.
“China doesn’t respect weakness,” she said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday.
“So, when something affects our national interest then we should make it very clear about where we stand.”
This tougher stance was on display most recently last month when Canberra backed comments by the United States accusing China of “destabilising” actions in the South China Sea, where it is involved in territorial disputes.
Bishop herself earned the ire of Beijing last November when she called in China’s ambassador over the sudden announcement of an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea.
An angry China at the time said Australia risked “jeopardising bilateral mutual trust”.
Abbott said Bishop’s comments on Thursday were “just reiterating what is the common sense position that every country has positions”.
“Sometimes countries disagree, but it is possible to have respectful disagreements that don’t in any way prejudice the friendship,” he said.
Abe left Australia on Thursday for Papua New Guinea, a Pacific nation emerging as an energy source for Japan.