Australia should avoid turning itself from ‘idyllic haven’ into battlefield, warn analysts as Japan eyes military contingencies cooperation
Published: Jan 16, 2024 09:12 PM
South China Sea Photo: VCG

South China Sea Photo: VCG

Japan and Australia, both countries in the Asia-Pacific region, should have a shared interest in maintaining peace and stability in the region, but as loyal allies of the US, the two countries are eyeing colluding to stir up troubles and adding new factors of instability into the region with their latest move to discuss cooperation on "military contingencies," experts noted.

Japanese media outlet the Japan Times on Monday cited government sources revealing that Japan and Australia are discussing potential military cooperation in case of "scenarios where emergencies arise simultaneously in both the East and South China Seas." The news report claimed the move is "apparently with China's growing maritime assertiveness in mind."

The working-level consultation was launched based on a joint declaration on security cooperation, signed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese when they met in October 2022 in Australia, according to media outlets.

The Japan Times reported on Monday that through the discussion and the development of examples of collaboration between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military, Tokyo envisions establishing bilateral defense cooperation guidelines with Canberra to clarify their role-sharing. Increasing the sophistication and frequency of joint drills between the two forces is likely to be brought up in the talks, the sources said.

Tokyo has also asked for Canberra's cooperation in using Australia's vast continent as a testing ground for Japanese missiles that are under development, the sources revealed. Japan has promised to acquire "counterstrike capabilities" by developing homemade long-range missiles, along with procuring US-produced Tomahawk cruise missiles, as a deterrent against regional security threats, the news report said.

Japan wants to conduct a test of its long-range missiles in Australia for two main reasons, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

First, it aims to participate in military exercises in Australia and showcase its domestically produced weapons and equipment to potential buyers, including Australia, Song explained, noting that Japan aspires to become a major arms exporter. 

Second, Japan needs to test its weapons in various countries and climates to enhance the military equipment's versatility and adaptability, the expert said.

However, arms sales by either the US or Japan to Australia or other Asia-Pacific countries could undermine peace and stability in the region, analysts pointed out. 

It is likely that Japan would be adversely affected as it lacks strategic depth. As an island country that is prone to earthquakes and volcanic disasters, Japan should focus on maintaining good relations with its neighbors rather than constantly making provocations, analysts warn.

In the event of a large-scale geological disaster, Japan needs to rely on neighboring countries for rescue and assistance, rather than the US across the Pacific, Song said. 

"As a proverb goes, 'a near neighbor is better than a distant relative.' Additionally, the US is not a distant relative to Japan, instead, it is Japan's master who always prioritizes its own interests," Song said.

With Europe and the Middle East already in turmoil, it is crucial to ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific, which serves as the engine of global economic development. If this region becomes unstable, it will have a detrimental impact on the world economy, according to analysts. 

"As countries in the region, Japan and Australia should prioritize maintaining stability rather than participating in the US' Indo-Pacific Strategy which mainly targets China," Song warned.

The analysts offered some advice to Australia, a country located in the second island chain. 

Both the US and Japan see Australia as an important strategic buffer zone in case of military contingencies, Song said, noting that Japan wants to woo Australia to contain China.

The Japan Times noted that Japan views Australia as a "quasi-ally," in addition to its sole security treaty ally the US.

In case of military contingencies, the first island chain could become a battlefield, while the second island chain can enjoy a significant strategic buffer. "Australia itself needs to understand that by aligning itself with the US and Japan in this way, it will inevitably become a battleground and no longer remain an idyllic haven," Song said.