Japan should play a bigger part in resolving conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region, where it is caught up in a territorial dispute with neighbor China, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.
“We see Japan taking an ever increasing role in some of the areas of conflict, some of the challenging environments,” Bishop said in a phone interview from Tokyo today.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to reinterpret the country’s pacifist constitution to allow it to defend allies, as part of a broader push for influence in the region as China asserts itself as an economic and military power. Japan and China are embroiled in a dispute over islands in the East China Sea and China is pressing its claims to a large part of the South China Sea, a major trade route.
Japan has a right to collective self-defense, Bishop said after concluding “two plus two” meetings with Defense Minister David Johnston and her Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.
“We support Japan’s desire to achieve peace and security for the long term in our region,” she said. “We welcome Japan’s efforts to play an even greater role in regional affairs and global affairs.”
Abe, who has increased defense spending two years in a row, used the Shangri-La security forum in Singapore last month to outline his efforts to toughen Japan’s defense posture and pledged to aid Southeast Asian nations in their disputes with China over territory. He framed Japan’s plans for a more active contribution to security as the path for “new Japanese.” That prompted Chinese Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong to call Abe’s comments provocative.
Chinese fighter jets yesterday flew “abnormally close” to Japanese military surveillance planes in the East China Sea, the second incident in less than a month, Japan’s Ministry of Defense said. Ships and planes from the countries have tailed one another around the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese since Japan bought three of them from a private owner in 2012.
While China is committed to a peaceful rise in power in the Asia-Pacific, a strong U.S. presence in the region is vital to prosperity and stability, Bishop said.
“Our point in all of our discussions, whether it be with the United States or Japan or China or any of the Asean countries, is that there must be a peaceful resolution to these territorial claims,” Bishop said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “The key to managing disputes in the South China Sea is to ensure that the Asean countries continue to engage in negotiations for a code of conduct.”
Australia is also seeking to build its defense capacity. The world’s 12th-largest economy must balance its interests between the U.S. -- a strategic ally that has Marines based in the northern Australian city of Darwin -- and top trading partner China, which Bishop criticized last year for proclaiming an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.
Australia, which is in talks to potentially use submarine technology from Japan, yesterday reached a “substantial conclusion” to negotiations with Kishida and Onodera in their bid for cooperation in sharing defense equipment and technology, the nations said in a joint statement. Further details are expected next month when Abe addresses the Australian parliament in Canberra, Bishop said today.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is in the U.S. for talks with President Barack Obama, in May increased defense spending, committing A$122.7 billion ($115 billion) in the four years through June 2018, A$9.6 billion more than the amount earmarked by the previous Labor government.
The stepped-up spending comes as Asia-Pacific nations focus on upgrading their military, with China making a more combat-ready army and a navy with broader reach a priority. China’s defense budget will rise 12.2 percent this year to 808.2 billion yuan ($130 billion).
“As long as parties embrace international law to resolve their territorial or sovereignty claims then we will be able to achieve that goal of peace and stability and security,” Bishop said today.
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