Volatility spurring deeper cooperation with Japan - Australia foreign minister

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 15, 2016 9:32 PM

TOKYO (Reuters) - Recent economic and political volatility in Asia and the rest of the world are spurring closer strategic cooperation between Tokyo and Canberra, Australia's Foreign Minister said on Tuesday.

"Australia will weather global and regional volatility, but that means our relationship with trusted partners like Japan is even more important," Julie Bishop said during a speech in Tokyo where she met with her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

Bishop, on her fifth visit to Japan, will travel to Beijing Tuesday for talks with Chinese officials after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani. As well as security cooperation with Japan, Australia is seeking deeper economic ties with China, its largest trading partner.

Japan is hoping that Australia's appetite for deeper security ties will bolster its bid to sell Canberra a fleet of stealthy submarines. Kishida in his meeting with Bishop yesterday noted the strategic significance of a Japanese built submarine.

Australia this year will pick the design for a new fleet of submarines in a deal worth as much as A$40 billion ($29 billion). Japan, which is offering a variant of its 4,000 ton Soryu submarine, is competing against rival bids from Germany and France for the contract.

Washington is encouraging closer security cooperation between Japan and Australia as it looks to its Asian allies to shoulder a bigger security role as China's rise alters the balance of power in the region.

Bishop pointed to tensions in the South China Sea and "random acts of destabilization" such as North Korea's recent rocket launch and nuclear test as "challenges" in Asia.

China has accused Washington of seeking maritime hegemony in the name of freedom of navigation after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the Paracel chain of the South China Sea in late January.

More than $5 trillion of trade moves through the South China Sea each year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim parts of the waterway.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Richard Pullin)