TOKYO (REUTERS) - A week after loosening curbs on Japan's military, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heads to Australia to bolster security ties and conclude a defence industry agreement that may help seal a deal to build Australia a fleet of stealth submarines.
Abe will address a joint session of Australia's parliament in Canberra on Tuesday, the first such speech by a Japanese prime minister, and meet his counterpart Tony Abbott, a Japanese official said.
After their talks, the two leaders are to sign an agreement to cooperate in developing defence equipment, Japan's first such pact with another Asia-Pacific nation, mirroring an agreement clinched last year with Britain.
Abe arrives in Australia on Monday after visiting New Zealand. He will end his trip with a two-day stay in Papua New Guinea, the first visit by a Japanese prime minister in three decades.
Deepening military cooperation between Japan and Australia reflects both Abe's more assertive defence and security policies and his desire to counter China's growing military clout.
Abe in April eased post-World War II curbs on military exports. This week, he took a historic step away from Japan's post-war pacifism, ending a ban on the nation's military from aiding a friendly country under attack.
The bilateral agreement will establish a framework to cooperate on military technology, which could pave the way for Japan to supply stealth submarine designs and components to Australia.
That will be needed if Japan is to help Australia build a fleet of 4,000 ton-class quiet-running diesel-electric subs that would extend the range of its maritime surveillance deep into the Indian Ocean. Australia is also considering proposals from Germany and Sweden.
Discussion about the submarine has accelerated since Abe eased the arms-export ban, sources have told Reuters. Japan is building up its fleet of Soryu-class subs, a design Australia sees as suitable for its own needs.
A sub designed for Australia may even be made in Japanese shipyards, a option that would allow Japan to better keep track of sensitive technology, a source in Tokyo involved in the discussion told Reuters.
Australia, lacking the facilities and engineers to carry out the project at home, would need to invest heavily if it were to build the vessels itself.