Covid threat overshadows Japan pact

“That the Australian and Japanese Prime Ministers will meet to discuss matters of mutual interest, such as enhanced defence cooperation, is welcome news. However, the two Prime Ministers should be conducting such talks that include all Asian leaders, especially Indonesia and China,” said Allan Behm, director of the international & security affairs program at the Australia Institute.

“Prime Minister Kishida’s decision to cancel his in-person visit to Sydney should not pass unnoticed. The biggest security threat facing Asia is the COVID pandemic, impacting on the human security of the 4.5 billion people who live in the region.

“Were the two Prime Ministers to refocus their dialogue to addressing the immediate health and prosperity concerns of the peoples of Asia, the citizens of Australia and Japan included, and engage the other key heads of government – particularly China, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam – their energies would have far greater impact.

“Agreements and protocols between national defence institutions are important, and they do contribute to regional stability. But they must remain alive to the broader human security problems to which solutions are even more important and necessary.

“It is important to see Prime Minister Morrison’s enthusiasm for the Australia-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement in context. The agreement is hardly new: a bilateral security agreement has been in place since 2007 and talks between the two defence forces have been underway for the past seven years or so. And over a year ago, Morrison and PM Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga announced an ‘in-principle’ agreement that has finally come to fruition.

“What is new is the timing. The announcement will be seen to burnish the government’s credentials on national security, in the lead up to a federal election, notwithstanding Australia being one of the most secure and prosperous nations in the world, remote from theatres of conflict.”