The two Pacific nations have strengthened military ties against an assertive China, strengthening a US-backed political bloc against the Asian giant.
Across the Pacific region, the world’s new power centre, tensions have been increasing between the Western alliance and China in recent years.
The most recent indication of regional confrontation is a military agreement between Australia and Japan, two Pacific nations with strong anti-China tendencies.
Today Sydney and Tokyo signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA), which allows both states to conduct military exercises in the territory of the other country without permission.
Since 2020, both countries have worked through a political understanding on lifting legal and bureaucratic barriers over their militaries’ entrance to the other country’s sovereign territories.
Japanese and Australian leaders hailed the agreement as a great achievement to secure their common interests in the Pacific.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison emphasised “the shared strategic security challenges” they both face without naming Beijing as the cause of their concerns. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described it as “a landmark instrument” of the countries’ developing cooperation.
But Morrison’s mention of democracy and human rights and the new pact’s aim to create “a free, open and resilient Indo-Pacific" clearly showed that the pact is an encoded message to Beijing under the management of the one-party rule of the communists.
On the other side of the Pacific, China displayed stoicism in the face of the deal between Tokyo and Sydney. “The Pacific Ocean is vast enough for the common development of countries in the region,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Wednesday, in classic Chinese diplomatic language.
While China is pursuing an expansionist foreign policy across the world, it’s not based on military occupations or confrontations like the US and Russia have done in the past. It’s “completely reliant on soft power approaches, producing many win/win solutions,” says Richard Falk, a prominent international law professor.
Wenbin’s statement confirms Falk’s comments on China’s approach.
“State-to-state exchanges and cooperation should be conducive to enhancing mutual understanding and trust among countries in the region and safeguarding regional peace and stability, rather than targeting or undermining the interests of any third party,” Wenbin said.
“We hope that the Pacific will be an ocean of peace, not a place to make waves,” he added.
The strategic rise of the Pacific
For centuries, the Mediterranean had been a central location for the fight for political and economic supremacy, from the Romans to the Habsburgs and the Ottomans.
In the 20th century, with the emergence of US supremacy and the NATO alliance, the Atlantic gained a lot of importance. With China’s recent rise against the Western alliance, the 21st century could be the century of the Asia-Pacific region as centre stage.
In recent years, the US and its allies have worked hard to limit China’s reach across the Pacific. In September, the Western alliance created AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US to sell nuclear submarines to Sydney. Many experts see it as Western political leveraging against China.
As a result, the Australia-Japan deal appears to be the latest link in the anti-China chain of the Western alliance in the Pacific. It is also an attempt to strengthen the Quad, a strategic dialogue between the US, India, Japan and Australia as a response to China’s assertive presence in the Pacific region.
Beside China’s emergence as a global power, there are other reasons behind the rise of the Pacific region. Like China, Japan and the US also have Pacific coasts, and all three countries are also three of the world’s largest economies. Nearly two thirds of global growth are produced in the Indo-Pacific region, which also represents 60 percent of the world’s population.
What happened to Japan’s non-military status?
The Australia-Japan deal is also an interesting development in terms of Japan’s non-military status. The Japanese constitution’s Article 9 prohibits the country from operating a military force.
“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” the article says.
“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized,” it adds.
But in the light of the new agreement, it’s clear the Japanese military will operate alongside its Australian counterpart across the Pacific. In recent years Japan has also increased defence spending to record levels.