TOKYO — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday started his one-day trip to Japan aimed at deepening bilateral security and defense ties with a visit to a Ground Self-Defense Force camp near Tokyo accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Turnbull flew to the GSDF Camp Narashino in Chiba Prefecture, east of the capital, by helicopter with Abe and saw drills of an anti-terror unit there after arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda airport early in the morning.
The two leaders will hold talks later in the day to enhance defense cooperation amid North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and China’s maritime assertiveness.
They will seek to agree in principle on a new security pact that will stipulate the legal status of military personnel temporarily staying in the partner country for joint exercises, Japanese government sources said.
The envisioned visiting forces agreement, if formally reached, will enable the two countries to transport military equipment and ammunition onto each other’s soil smoothly and make it easier for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defense Force to conduct joint drills.
In January last year the two countries reached a revised acquisition and cross-servicing agreement, which allows them to provide ammunition, water, food and other supplies to each other.
Japan views Australia as a “quasi-ally,” serving as a partner together with the United States and India under Abe’s “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy” apparently meant to address China’s escalating activities in the region’s waters.
Turnbull’s Japan visit took place as both countries’ ties with China have recently soured. Last week, Tokyo lodged a protest with Beijing after spotting a Chinese naval submarine and a frigate in waters near the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by China and Taiwan.
Canberra has also been at odds with Beijing over an Australian minister’s criticism of Chinese aid pouring into Pacific island nations, arguing it has created “useless buildings.”
Strengthening bilateral economic ties is also likely to be high on the agenda during the Abe-Turnbull summit following a bilateral free trade agreement that took effect in 2015.
Tokyo and Canberra, alongside nine other nations, also aim to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the framework in January last year. The 11 nations agreed on “core elements” of the deal in November when they met in Vietnam.
Turnbull is visiting Japan for the second time, following his first trip in December 2015. He and Abe last held talks in November on the sidelines of a regional meeting in the Philippines.