On October 22 in Perth, Australia, Prime Ministers Anthony Albanese of Australia and Kishida Fumio of Japan signed off on a revised Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation (JDSC). It was a warm and comfortable low-key meeting between two leaders who have met four times since Albanese took office in May.
Clearly a lot has changed since 2007, when then-prime ministers John Howard and Abe Shinzo signed off on the original Joint Declaration. At the time the declaration was seen as a historic event, as it symbolized the rapidly strengthening security ties between the countries as part of their collective response to the “9/11” terrorist attacks on the United States. For Japan, moreover, it was only the second security agreement signed since 1945 (the first was with the United States).
Due to limitations on Japan’s military capabilities and focus on human security issues, the original declaration emphasized cooperation on the regional refugee crisis, environmental disasters, and humanitarian and development issues. As a result, the 2007 declaration was not a security treaty with binding agreements. Nonetheless the incorporation of annual “2+2” talks between foreign affairs and defense ministers, and a commitment to place regional issues at the forefront of bilateral discussions, were major developments.
So how does the revised declaration differ from the original?
First, the revised declaration was signed in an era of extremely close security ties between two countries who enjoy a special strategic partnership. A Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) signed in January this year, for example, allows for Australian and Japanese defense forces to act and operate together seamlessly. It is the first such agreement that Japan has signed with any country other than the United States.
As noted by Thomas Wilkins, bilateral cooperation through the 2007 Declaration on Security Cooperation and 2014 “Special Strategic Partnership” mechanism has now become entrenched as a “fixture” of both Australian and Japanese foreign, economic and security policy.
In this context, the 2007 declaration set the foundation for extensive bilateral security cooperation and the revised declaration has established the pathway in which the RAA is to be implemented. In particular, the declaration signaled sophisticated joint exercises and operations, multilateral exercises with partners, mutual use of facilities including maintenance, asset protection, and personnel links and exchanges. As stated at the press conference in Perth, the revised declaration is a blueprint for security cooperation for the next 10 years.
Second, the revised declaration, as with the original, is not a formal security treaty and is non-binding. Nonetheless, the revised document goes much further than its predecessor in committing both countries to respond to security issues. Part 6 of the agreement states, “We will consult each other on contingencies that may affect our sovereignty and regional security interests, and consider measures in response.” Notably the wording is similar to Article 3 in the ANZUS Treaty provisions and thereby highlights the closeness between Australian and Japanese security communities.
This is an important development. When Abe and Howard signed the 2007 JDSC, Japan was not able to exercise the right to collective self-defense, because it was deemed to be unconstitutional. Based on the Peace and Security Legislation enacted in 2015, however, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are now allowed to escort and protect military personnel from other countries that contribute to the defense of Japan, and to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a survival threatening situation.
In other words, the SDF can protect the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) in peacetime or a military emergency. During the joint military drills of November 10-12, 2021, for example, the SDF undertook the protection of weapons for the ADF for the first time since the enactment of the Peace and Security Legislation.
Third, although there is no explicit mention of China, the document is all about responding to China’s contestation with the United States as regional hegemon. Coded wording such the need for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and a “rules-based and market-oriented trade and investment system, as well as diverse and resilient supply chains” are clear indicators that the perceived China threat is the main agenda. Indeed, the Japan Times reported that Kishida and Albanese signed a “landmark security pact” to counter China.
Both Australia and Japan have been beneficiaries of the U.S.-led international rules-based order and enjoy security treaties with the United States as well as trilateral (Australia-Japan-U.S.) and quadrilateral (Australia-India-Japan-U.S.) security dialogue arrangements. The importance of trilateral dialogue was emphasized in the document.
Where to from here?
Both Kishida and Albanese confirmed the importance of facilitating the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision. In this sense, the upgrade of the JDSC has regional implications in the Indo-Pacific strategic sphere. In particular, the necessity of collaborative measures to response to North Korean nuclear and missile threats as well as the increasing influence of China in the Indo-Pacific sphere have been discussed. In a development of concern to Australia in particular, Beijing has strengthened its security network with countries of the South Pacific. Solomon Islands, for instance, signed a security agreement with China in April this year, causing diplomatic tensions in the region.
Moreover, ongoing tensions in the Taiwan Strait have geopolitical implications for the revised JDSC and the FOIP vision. Notably, the Joint Statement by Albanese and Kishida mentioned “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” which has critical geopolitical implications for the Indo-Pacific region. Japan and Australia would need to strengthen their strategic partnership to deter and prepare for a possible military emergency in the Taiwan Strait, especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Another important factor is that Japan has been faced with the prospect of energy insecurity since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War. Australia has been a long-term supplier of energy and natural resources for Japan, and Kishida is keen to secure more liquified natural gas (LNG), given the disruption of the supply chain with Russia. In this regard, Perth was the ideal place for both countries to discuss enhanced energy cooperation, as Japan imports massive amount of LNG, iron ore, and wheat from Western Australia.
Will the 2022 JDSC lead to a formal security treaty between the two countries? Albanese stated of the 2022 JDSC, “This landmark declaration sends a strong signal to the region of our strategic alignment.” The Australia-Japan bilateral relationship has been called a “quasi-alliance” and “special strategic partnership,” which might be upgraded into a formal alliance in the future, as noted by Michael Green.
Over the past 15 years the emergence of China as a genuine competitor to the United States has meant that Australia and Japan are looking for new ways to maintain regional order and bolster the position of the United States. While Japan has managed to maintain trade and regional cooperation with China, there has been serious tension over territorial disputes in the East China Sea and increasing Japanese criticism of China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea and over Taiwan. Importantly also, Japan is bolstering its SDF and passed legislation that allows Japan to come the defense of allies under attack.
For Australia, there has been a substantial decline in bilateral ties with China since 2016. The souring of relations has led to a rapid deterioration in ties and a substantial decline in trade and limited communication between Australian and Chinese leaders. At the same time, there has been a strengthening of ties with Washington through the revised Quad arrangement (which includes Japan and India) and the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS).
At this stage however, it is still unlikely that the Australia-Japan relationship would be upgraded to a formal alliance. The revised JDSC was based on a mutual threat perception vis-à-vis China, but paradoxically, China is also a key factor prohibiting the conclusion of a formal alliance. There exists a persuasive argument in Canberra that such a pact would jeopardize Australia’s national interests in the long term. In addition, Japan’s defense capability is constitutionally limited despite the Peace and Security Legislation, and hence, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution remains a hindrance to the formal alliance.
Even so, the upgrade of the JDSC was necessary in the age of the Indo-Pacific and amid the energy security crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine War.