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Japan, Australia strike strategic security cooperation agreement

Kyodo | TOKYO, March 13 2007

Japan, Australia strike strategic security cooperation agreement

Japan and Australia agreed Tuesday to expand strategic cooperation in security and defense issues, stating in a joint declaration they will coordinate policies over North Korea, counterterrorism and nonproliferation measures, as well as expand joint training for U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The declaration signed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister John Howard also stipulated the setting up of so-called ’’two-plus-two’’ ministerial security talks, similar to those each country has with the United States, bringing together the two sides’ defense and foreign ministers.

Howard already agreed with Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma in a meeting earlier in the day to set up the dialogue framework, with the prime minister saying Australia is engaged in a similar form of talks only with the United States and Britain and that moving forward to do so with Japan would be important.

Abe and Howard also agreed to expedite negotiations for a free trade agreement between the two countries. Japan and Australia are set to hold their first FTA talks next month in Canberra in what will be Japan’s first such negotiations with a major farming nation.

Australia became the second country to conclude a security cooperation framework with Japan. The only other country is the United States, Tokyo’s closest ally.

The move reflects the keenness of Abe’s administration to enhance strategic dialogue among Japan, the United States, Australia and India, apparently to keep China in check amid the growth in that country’s military power, political pundits said.

It is also apparently aimed at downplaying the impression domestically both in Japan and Australia that their leaders focus too much on their alliance with the United States.

The two leaders agreed in the declaration to develop an action plan on measures for cooperating on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, maritime and aviation security, and cracking down on international crime such as drug trafficking.

At the outset of the meeting, both Abe and Howard cited the cooperation between Japanese Self-Defense Forces and Australian troops in southern Iraq as an example of close interaction and support between the two nations in security issues.

Howard is in Japan on a four-day visit that began Sunday.