Japan-Australia Cooperation: Rise of Middle Powers in the Indo-Pacific
China’s use of economic coercion, gray area operations in the East and South China Seas and threats to reunify Taiwan by force are among a growing plethora of concerns that Japan, Australia and other like-minded countries are adopting defensive postures to what China itself has admitted is an explicit effort by China “to shape a conducive ideological environment to its rise and to counter Western values”.
To counter China’s revisionist intentions, on January 6, Japan and Australia at a virtual summit signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). The agreement places bilateral relations only after each respective country’s alliance with the United States. This signals that Canberra and Tokyo see bilateral security cooperation as key to anchoring the United States in the wider Indo-Pacific. It also shows the importance of investing in security partnerships that are complementary to, but also independent of, the United States.
The RAA is important for both partners to access each other’s territories for joint training and the deployment of assets such as troops, warships and submarines. Simultaneously, it is an opportunity for Japan and Australia to further align their security, trade and diplomatic policies in the Indo-Pacific. This will affect the harmonization of foreign policy vis-à-vis Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Pacific Islands. This harmonization will not be exclusive to bilateral cooperation; rather, it will depend on the regional and functional focus of various strategic imperatives.
For example, Southeast Asia is a key partner for Canberra and Tokyo. The centrality of ASEAN remains, albeit contested, an essential ingredient in advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Marginalizing ASEAN would prove counterproductive in dealing with regional challenges such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea or non-traditional security challenges such as COVID-19, illegal fishing, piracy and climate change.
To counter Chinese efforts to break ASEAN unity, Tokyo and Canberra will need to align their policies toward Southeast Asia to strengthen their strategic autonomy. The RAA provides a platform for Tokyo and Canberra to integrate their foreign policies in the region so that they are more synergistic.
Concrete examples include the harmonization of pre-existing middle-power projects such as the Japan-Mekong Connectivity Initiative or the Australian Recovery Partnerships in the ASEAN and Southeast Asia region.
Supporting ASEAN’s intra-regional integration through business partnerships such as the RCEP but also the expansion of the CPTPP is perhaps the best way to strengthen its strategic autonomy. Japan and Australia should proactively lobby eligible ASEAN states to join the CPTPP and/or advocate for a TPP 2.0 that embraces the middle class foreign policy agenda of the Biden administration, a key future partner in any regional trade deal. Here, Prime Minister Kishida’s New Capitalism that focuses on improving the economic prospects of Japan’s middle class is a good starting point for discussion.
Canberra and Tokyo are also expected to leverage the RAA agreement to improve maritime domain awareness capabilities, interoperability, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) coordination with ASEAN member states.
Pivoting towards Oceania and the Indian Ocean, France, Canada and New Zealand would be ideal partners to cooperate in the Peaceful while Germany, France and the UK could be more suitable partners in the Western Indian Ocean to deal with piracy, illegal fishing and other emerging challenges.
The Pacific Islands need credible alternatives to China’s BRI initiatives. Here, efforts by Japan, the United States and Australia to fund the connection of an undersea internet cable to the Pacific island nation of Palau must be extended to other Pacific island countries.
From funding to governance and training, functional cooperation based on the coordination of the comparative advantages of the middle powers must strengthen the strategic autonomy of the Pacific islands. Through active engagement by Australia and Japan with other partners in the region, they will strengthen middle power autonomy, anchor the United States in the region, and prevent Chinese hegemony from emerging in Indo. -Peaceful.
The same is true for South Asian states, from the Maldives to Sri Lanka to Bangladesh.
Superficially, the RAA of Canberra and Tokyo may seem new, but at the Track 1.5 and Track 2 level, Australia and Japan have made considerable efforts to make the “Pacific Ocean” a functioning free and liberal economic order as well. .
As an example, Japan and Australia played a leading role in the creation of the Pacific Free Trade and Development (PACFTAD) in 1962. The Pacific Basin Economic Cooperation, otherwise known as PBEC, gave ideas to the ASEAN economic and finance ministers to deregulate their markets from the 1980s and finally the Pacific Economic Cooperation Dialogue (PECC) to serve as an institutional precursor with advisory board to the creation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 1989.
In the post-Cold War era, Australia and Japan have played central roles in the formation and reshaping of ASEAN, more than the regional organization cares to admit.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union left the region without a proper platform to engage in “defensive diplomacy”. This led to the concept of “cooperative security” in which all parties agreed not to regard the other as an “enemy” by first initiating confidence-building measures (CCMs) and disclosing more information. information on each country’s defence/military doctrine, ideally through White Papers.
To manage this vacuum, Japan encouraged the ten ASEAN member states to transform the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Dialogue in 1992 to form what would later be called the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Japanese and Australian scholars successfully convinced the semi-governmental think tanks, known as the Consortium for Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation (CSCAP), which were closest to their presidents, prime ministers and ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense to adopt and formally launch the ARF in 1994, which now has 26 member states, including all nuclear powers in the region.
With the collapse of 90% of the fisheries in China’s 12 nautical mile territorial waters in recent years, more and more illegal unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing has spread to the seas of the island of Natuna, Indonesia. To counter this, the United States and Indonesia have launched a $3.6 million joint training center in Batam which is also a triangular economic cooperation plan of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Australia and Japan, through the RAA and its Southeast Asian partners, stand to benefit immensely from this initiative, as China’s six nuclear submarines will struggle to squeeze through the strait. shallow waters of Malacca undetected in their ports.
To this end, Japan has made considerable investments in the island of Nicobar in the Indian Ocean, which lies not far from the northern mouth of the Strait of Malacca. The goal is to lengthen the runway to allow the PSC-8 Poseidon, which can scan the seabed to detect submarines.
With the advent of AUKUS and the RAA, the importance of the ARF’s “defensive diplomacy” waned. The region remains locked into confidence-building initiatives aimed at socializing China by participating in preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping and maritime cooperation. The ARF will continue to lose strategic value as Canberra and Tokyo look forward to its ability to deter China from revisionist behavior and choose functional, region-focused cooperation based on coordinating the comparative advantages of middle powers. and thus guaranteeing the autonomy of the middle powers, anchoring the United States in the region and preventing Chinese hegemony from emerging.
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