Japan PM Shinzo Abe in security talks with Australia as they seek to counter China

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also expected to approve a memorandum of understanding to further ties between their space agencies. PHOTOS: AFP, EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a virtual summit with his Australian counterpart on Thursday (July 9) to discuss ways to deepen defence and security ties as both nations seek ways to counter an increasingly assertive China.

The leaders will deliberate on "ways we can work together, with other regional partners, to help ensure an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement on Wednesday.

"As like-minded democracies, we are natural partners with shared interests underpinned by open markets and the rule of law."

The leaders of the nations, which share a "Special Strategic Relationship", are also expected to approve a memorandum of understanding to further ties between their space agencies.

The meeting comes as the countries have seen their relationships with China - both their largest trading partner - turn increasingly sour.

In what was meant to be a gala year for ties between Japan and China, a state visit by President Xi Jinping planned for April had to be postponed as both countries battled the coronavirus.

This week, some in Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for the visit to be officially cancelled after China's clampdown on Hong Kong.

Tensions around disputed islands in the East China Sea are also heating up again, with Chinese government vessels spending a record amount of time in Japan-administered waters over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Australia's already tenuous relations with China took a nosedive in April when Mr Morrison's government called for independent investigators to be allowed to enter Wuhan to probe the origins of the coronavirus.

Since then, Beijing has imposed crippling tariffs on Australian barley, banned imports from four of its meat plants, and warned its citizens to avoid travelling to the US ally due to the risk of racist attacks.

In turn, Australia has said Beijing shouldn't engage in "economic coercion", while Mr Morrison has stated his government is investigating ways it can provide safe haven to Hong Kong dissidents.

On Tuesday, Australia warned its own citizens that they risked "arbitrary" arrest in China following the detention of foreigners there on security grounds.

Mr Morrison in January scrapped plans to visit Japan in the year's early months due to his nation's bush-fire crisis.

He said in the statement that he wants to reschedule the trip "as soon as circumstances allow".

Japan is Australia's second-largest trading partner and second-largest source of foreign direct investment.

They entered into a free trade agreement in January 2015.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.