Japan, Australia sign landmark security pact aimed at countering China’s military rise
- Prime ministers Kishida and Albanese signed the accord that would allow the two countries’ military forces to train together in Northern Australia
- Experts see the agreement as another step toward Tokyo joining the US-led Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance
“This landmark declaration sends a strong signal to the region of our strategic alignment”, said Albanese, hailing the “Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation”.
Under the accord, the two countries agreed military forces would train together in Northern Australia, and would “expand and strengthen cooperation across defence, intelligence sharing”, Australian officials said.
Neither Australia nor Japan has the armies of overseas intelligence operatives and foreign informants needed to play in the major leagues of global espionage.
Japan does not have a foreign spy agency equivalent to America’s CIA, Britain’s MI6, Russia’s FSB or Australia’s much smaller agency ASIO.
But according to expert Bryce Wakefield, Australia and Japan do have formidable signals and geospatial capabilities – electronic eavesdropping and hi-tech satellites that provide invaluable intelligence on adversaries.
Wakefield, director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, said the agreement could also have broader significance, providing a template for Japan to accelerate intelligence ties with countries like Britain.
Some even see the accord as another step toward Japan joining the powerful Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance between Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
It is “an epoch-making event that Japan can share SIGINT with a foreign nation except for the United States,” Ken Kotani, an expert in Japan’s intelligence history at Nihon University said.
“This will strengthen the framework of Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the US) and the first step for Japan’s join to the Five Eyes,” he added.
Such a suggestion would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. But events in Japan’s neighbourhood have forced a rethink of the country’s pacifist policies established in the wake of World War II.
In recent years North Korea has repeatedly fired missiles over and around Japan, while China has built the world’s largest navy, revamped the globe’s biggest standing army, and amassed a nuclear and ballistic arsenal right on Tokyo’s doorstep.
But hurdles remain for Japan’s closer security cooperation with allies.
Japan’s intelligence sharing with the US and other partners has been hampered by long-standing concerns about Tokyo’s ability to handle sensitive confidential material and send it securely.
“To put it bluntly Japan has traditionally leaked like a sieve,” said Brad Williams, author of a book on Japanese intelligence policy and a professor at City University of Hong Kong.
Laws have been introduced to more severely punish intelligence leaks, but for now, Australia is likely to be forced to scrub any intelligence it passes to Japan for information gleaned from the Five Eyes network.
Prime ministers Kishida and Albanese also vowed more cooperation on energy security.
Japan is a major buyer of Australian gas and has made a series of big bets on hydrogen energy produced in Australia, as it tries to ease a lack of domestic energy production and dependence on fossil fuels.
“Japan imports 40 per cent of its LNG from Australia. So it’s very important for Japan to have a stable relationship with Australia, from the aspect of energy,” a Japanese official said ahead of the meeting.
“Russia’s act of threatening the use of nuclear weapons is a serious threat to the peace and security of the international community and absolutely unacceptable,” said Kishida, who leads the only country to have ever been hit with a nuclear bomb.