SYDNEY • Japan's defence minister has urged Australia to award a huge submarine contract to his country, saying such a deal would help bolster regional security.
Australia has put out to tender a project worth up to A$50 billion (S$51 billion) to replace its current diesel and electric-powered Collins-class submarines.
France and Germany are also in the running with Japan to secure the order, with a deadline next Monday to submit final proposals.
Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said yesterday that picking Tokyo could help ensure maritime security in the Asia-Pacific, alluding to the importance of regional allies such as the United States, Japan and Australia working together in the face of China's growing military might.
He said after talks with his counterpart Marise Payne in Sydney that awarding Japan the contract would be of "strategic importance, significant strategic importance, and this is not just about transfer of defence equipment and capabilities".
"This will lead to operational cooperation between Japan and Australia... Japan and Australia and the US."
Mr Nakatani added that if Japan were chosen, it would be a "model for strategic cooperation between Australia, US and Japan".
For Australia, cooperating with Japan - whose Soryu is widely seen as the best submarine of its type - risks angering its biggest trading partner, China.
Ms Payne said Japan was "a key defence partner" with "similar values, shared strategic interests".
"We have a common alliance with the US and a significant proportion of our discussions today was devoted to talking about enhancing that defence cooperation, with growing engagement between the Australian Defence Force and the Japan Self-Defence Forces," she added.
But she said this was separate to the tender process, which she did not want to pre-empt.
Besides matching the range and endurance of the Collins, the new generation of subs is expected to offer superior sensor performance and stealth capabilities.
The tender process has been politically sensitive, with Canberra keen to maximise Australian industry involvement and jobs. There are fears that any off-the-shelf purchase could kill off the domestic shipbuilding industry.
French naval contractor DCNS has said it would be able to carry out more than 70 per cent of construction in Australia. Germany's TKMS also says it could build all the submarines locally with some imported parts.
Mr Nakatani said Japan would try to maximise the participation of Australian companies.