The Anti-China Alliances
The US-Japan-Australia trio
ups the ante against China
In January, two very important things have happened. First, the world witnessed Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison signing the Reciprocal Access Agreement, a milestone document aimed at further institutionalizing security cooperation between the two countries. Then, officials from the United States and Japan held a ministerial-level meeting (2+2), signed a new cost-sharing agreement and worked through issues related to Covid-19 and US bases throughout the country. Here we take a look at both these momentous developments:
1. Reciprocal Access Agreement
On January 06, during a virtual summit between Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, Australia and Japan signed a “historic” defence treaty named “Reciprocal Access Agreement” (RAA) which sets out a framework for the two countries’ defence forces to cooperate with each other and makes it easier for each nation’s troops to operate in each other’s country. This agreement strengthens the political and psychological groundwork for increased military cooperation between the two nations. It is important to mention here that the RAA is Japan’s second formal defence pact with another country and confirms Australia’s status as its second most important security partner — after the United States, Japan’s only treaty ally.
Although PM Kishida called it “a landmark agreement that will take Japan-Australia security cooperation to a new level,” analysts believe that it is much more than that. It is one more strand — albeit a big one — in the diversifying and thickening web of security relations that is emerging in the Indo-Pacific region.
Although China was not mentioned explicitly, according to a statement from the Australian Prime Minister’s Office, the signing of the RAA is a “pivotal moment for Australia and Japan” that will “form an important part” of the two countries’ response to “the uncertainty we now face”. So, there is no doubt that the agreement is targeting China. For example, under the agreement, Japan and Australia could build a joint maritime communication mechanism targeting China and, as both have a large number of antisubmarine patrol aircraft, they could conduct activities from the Malacca Strait to the Miyako Strait in the Indo-Pacific.
2. US-Japan Agreement
On January 07, on the conclusion of the 2022 US-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting, both countries agreed to sign a new five-year agreement on sharing the cost of the US military presence in Japan. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who joined US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi for virtual “2+2” talks, said there is “an extraordinary level of mutual cooperation across the full spectrum of military capabilities”.
The joint statement issued after the meeting indicates the two sides’ resolve to respond jointly to the rapidly changing security environment in the region, so as to “maintain peace and stability” in East Asia and across the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, the joint statement reiterated that they will build deterrence to the threats to “Senkaku Islands” (as the Japanese call China’s Diaoyu Islands). They also claimed the developments in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and Hong Kong threaten human rights, so forces from outside the Asia-Pacific need to get involved in the region to uphold peace and human rights.
The Pentagon said the meeting reaffirmed the critical importance of the US-Japan alliance as “the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.” In a nod to Chinese ambitions in the region, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said it was “more important than ever” that Japan and the US were “united and show leadership” in the face of a number of challenges. Blinken was cited by Japanese news agency Kyodo as saying it was important to remain wary of countries that seek to undermine the international rules-based order. The comments were thought to refer to China and North Korea.
Defense Secretary Austin said the US-Japan alliance is increasingly important.
“We’re meeting against a backdrop of increased tensions and challenges to the free, stable and secure Indo-Pacific region that we both seek — challenges posed by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and by the coercive and aggressive behaviour of the People’s Republic of China,” Austin said.
On this occasion, Secretary Blinken said both countries will sign a new defence collaboration deal to counter emerging defence threats, including hypersonic and space-based capabilities. “We’re launching a new research and development agreement that will make it easier for our scientists, for our engineers and program managers to collaborate on emerging defence-related issues, from countering hypersonic threats to advancing space-based capabilities,” Blinken said.
The two nations will also sign a new five-year agreement covering the continued basing of US troops in Japan, in a deal where Japan has said it agreed to pay $9.3 billion to share the upkeep of US forces in Japan over five years.
China’s reaction to the RAA has been predictable, ranging from the ambivalent to the negative. Responding to the US and Japan’s “2+2” virtual meeting, as well as talks between Tokyo and Canberra, Beijing has lodged solemn representations with relevant countries for interfering in China’s internal affairs and fabricating disinformation to discredit China.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that maintaining peace, stability and development in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region requires upholding true multilateralism, respecting the open and inclusive regional cooperation framework formed over the years, and taking the road of solidarity, dialogue and cooperation. “The United States, Japan and Australia talk about freedom, openness and inclusiveness, while in reality, they are forming a clique against other countries, flexing their muscles and making military threats, which runs counter to the trend of peace and development in the region and contradicts their claim of opposing intimidation and coercion,” he added.
One thing that both these important developments suggest is that Washington, to contain China, is pushing for more bilateral cooperation between its allies and partners. It would like to see more bilateral mechanisms between its allies and partners. The administration of US President Joe Biden is likely to continue a hardline policy toward China, since midterm elections will be held in the US this year. But China seems not ready to yield on its national interests.