Australian PM defends security deal with Japan

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (right) and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the start of summit talks at the state guest house in Tokyo on April 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (right) and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the start of summit talks at the state guest house in Tokyo on April 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Closer defence ties between Japan and Australia should not raise concerns in regional superpower China, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Tuesday.

Canberra and Tokyo struck a major agreement on Monday to enhance trade and security ties, elevating the bilateral relationship to a new level.

Abbott told ABC radio Australia he was taking no side in territorial disputes between China and other nations, and the growing relationship with Japan did not target anyone else.

"It's not against any specific country and as far as I am concerned - as far as just about every country is concerned - what we want to see is more democracy, more freedom, more respect for the rule of law," he said when asked about China.

"We say there should be no change to the status quo, which is brought about by force or by the threat of force," he said.

Abbott noted there was already a high degree of defence co-operation between Australia and Japan, which is embroiled in territorial disputes with its southern neighbour China.

Australian and Japanese defence forces hold exercises together and Japan has previously purchased some Australian defence equipment, including Bushmaster armoured infantry transport vehicles, he said.

"We want to see more inter-operability between our militaries, we want to see more exercises between our militaries, we want to see over time more significant intelligence co-operation," the prime minister told ABC.

On Tuesday Australia was set to sign a free trade pact with South Korea following four years of negotiations. After Seoul, Abbott will head to China on Wednesday.

The agreement to boost security cooperation came after Japan last week loosened a self-imposed ban on weapons exports in a move which unnerved China.

Japan and Australia announced on Monday a "substantive agreement" on a long-awaited free-trade deal, in a rare opening of Japan's protected markets.

In Tokyo, Abbott said it was the first time Japan had negotiated a comprehensive economic partnership agreement or free trade deal with a major economy.