SYDNEY (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared on Tuesday his determination to pursue peace in Asia, as he signalled closer defence ties with Australia and prepared to rubber-stamp an ambitious free-trade agreement.
Abe used an historic address to a joint sitting of Australia's parliament to say that Japan "is now determined to do more to enhance peace in the region and peace in the world".
"It is to put that determination into concrete action that Japan has chosen to strengthen its ties with Australia," Abe, the first Japanese leader to address Australia's parliament, said.
"Our countries both love peace. We value freedom and democracy and we hold human rights and the rule of law dear," he said, calling the relationship between the two countries "special".
The two countries were to sign an agreement allowing for the transfer of Japanese defence equipment and technology to Australia, just days after Tokyo declared its powerful military had the right to go into battle in defence of allies.
The military declaration irked China, Australia's largest trading partner, which has a fractious relationship with Japan including tensions over hotly contested islands in the East China Sea.
Abe said his country's push to "change its legal basis for security" was so it could work with other nations and "build an international order that upholds the rule of law".
"Our desire is to make Japan a country that is all the more willing to contribute to peace in the region and beyond," he said in his address, which was delivered in English.
"It is for this reason that Japan has raised the banner of proactive contribution to peace.
"In everything we say and do, we must follow the law and never fall back onto force or coercion. When there are disputes, we must always use peaceful means to find solutions."
- 'Making his mark on history' -
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott echoed Abe's emphasis on the push for peace in the Asia-Pacific as he welcomed Japan's decision to be "a more capable strategic partner in our region".
"Ours is not a partnership against anyone; it's a partnership for peace, for prosperity and for the rule of law," he said, offering China reassurance.
"Our objective is engagement. We both welcome the greater trust and openness in our region that's exemplified by China's participation in this year's RimPac (Rim of the Pacific) naval exercises." Abbott hailed Abe as "making his mark on history" with the two countries due on Tuesday to ink a free-trade agreement - the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement.
The deal, which was agreed during a trip by Abbott in April to Tokyo, is Japan's first with a major economy.
It will see tariffs lowered for Japanese exports of electronics, white goods and cars, while Australia's exports of beef, dairy, wine, horticulture and gain products will gain increased access to the East Asian nation.
The Australian leader said the agreement showed the two nations were serious about boosting economic growth.
"This is the message that both Japan and Australia will bring to the G20 leaders' meeting in Brisbane in November - freer trade means more economic growth and more economic growth means more prosperous people and fairer societies," Abbott told parliament.
Abe will travel to Australia's resources-rich state of Western Australia on Wednesday, where he is set to visit its capital Perth as well as mining giant Rio Tinto's West Angeles mine in the Pilbara region.
He departs for Papua New Guinea on Thursday, with the Pacific nation emerging as a source of fuel for Japan.
It follows the first shipment of liquefied natural gas from a landmark US$19 billion (S$24 billion) project in PNG last month.