Japan eyes defense pact with Australia

Japan eyes defense pact with Australia

Japan and Australia are considering signing a bilateral agreement that will facilitate mutual visits by the Self-Defence Forces and the Australian military for disaster relief cooperation and joint military exercises, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

According to sources, Japan and Australia will likely conclude a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which Japan has not signed with any country before.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Australia on Tuesday to hold a summit meeting with his counterpart Tony Abbott. They will issue a joint statement calling for strengthening bilateral security cooperation as a step toward starting talks on signing a VFA, according to the sources.

When it comes to agreements allowing foreign forces to conduct operations in the country, Japan concluded the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement in 1960, which is based on the Japan-US Security Treaty, and the Agreement Regarding the Status of the United Nations Forces in Japan, which was signed in 1954.

These agreements were concluded to deal with situations related to the stationing of foreign forces in Japan for an extended period. Under the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement, US personnel are immune from criminal prosecution, for instance.

In contrast, a VFA is designed to resolve legal issues before foreign forces conduct short-term operations in the other's country. Australia signed a similar agreement with the Philippines in 2007.

The government has already started coordination among relevant ministries and agencies to conclude a VFA with Australia. Legal issues under study include:

-Waiving customs for items that the SDF and the Australian forces will bring to the other's country.

-Allowing the Australian forces' tanks and other vehicles to be operated on Japan's streets.

-Allowing the Australian military to bring firearms and ammunition into the country.

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