Japan, Australia to jointly develop defence equipment

Japan and Australia have reached broad agreement on strengthening bilateral security ties, including the joint development of defence equipment that could pave the way for Tokyo to supply Canberra with stealth submarine technology.

The accord was reached in "two plus two" talks here yesterday between the foreign and defence ministers of both countries. Specifically, the two countries agreed to conduct joint research into the hydromechanics of ships.

If all goes well, a formal treaty is expected to be signed when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Australia, possibly next month.

Canberra is reported to be looking to replace its fleet of stealth submarines at a cost of up to US$37 billion (S$46.2 billion), a potential deal that would boost Japan's defence industry, in addition to enhancing bilateral economic and military ties.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera represented Japan in the talks with their respective Australian counterparts, Ms Julie Bishop and Mr David Johnston.

The talks, the fifth of their kind between the two countries, were last held two years ago.

Yesterday's talks were a follow-up to a meeting between Mr Abe and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott here in April, when they agreed to beef up security ties, including cooperation in developing defence equipment.

A joint statement yesterday said both sides were "strongly opposed" to the use of force to unilaterally change the status quo. This was an apparent reference to China's increasing naval activities and skirmishes with countries in the region over territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

The ministers urged the use of international law to settle all disputes. Both sides also agreed to step up joint military exercises and training with each other as well as together with their common ally, the United States.

Japan's own problems with China were highlighted by the latest instance yesterday of a Chinese fighter jet flying "abnormally close" to a Japanese military aircraft over the East China Sea.

Mr Onodera told his Australian counterpart in a separate meeting that Tokyo had lodged a protest with Beijing over the incident.

Meanwhile, reports said Japan was in early talks with top European and US helicopter makers and their Japanese partners over a deal worth about US$2 billion to supply transport aircraft to the military.

The project, dubbed UH-X, is aimed at replacing 150 of Japan's ageing fleet of troop-carrying helicopters. The project also calls for these helicopters to be sold to third countries, an arrangement that will help widen the production base and cut the procurement costs of the aircraft for Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF).

In a related move, Japan plans to set up an arms procurement agency soon to promote military exports and streamline spending by the three arms of the SDF.

This article was first published on June 12, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.