FUNABASHI, JAPAN (AFP) - The prime ministers of Japan and Australia said on Thursday (Jan 18) they would push to seal a major security agreement "as early as feasible," in the face of tensions over North Korea.
The agreement on joint defence operations and exercises was at the centre of talks between Malcolm Turnbull and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe during a one-day visit by the Australian leader. In a joint statement after talks and a tour of a military training base outside Tokyo,
Turnbull and Abe "welcomed the recent progress in negotiations, and directed all relevant ministers to conclude the negotiations as early as feasible."
"Going forward, we agree to strive toward strengthening both quantitatively and qualitatively the joint exercises by Japan and Australia and aim at concluding an agreement at the earliest possible timing that would enable smooth mutual visits of the units," Abe added at a joint press conference.
The proposed pact would be the first of its kind for Japan and would make Australia Tokyo's closest military partner after the United States. It would involve joint defence operations and exercises, with one eye also on China as it expands its naval ambitions.
The pact would reportedly lay the ground for Japanese military exercises out of Darwin, the northern Australian city heavily bombed by Japan in World War II.
"The (military) agreement, when concluded, will be a pillar of the Japan-Australia security cooperation," said a Japanese diplomat ahead of the talks.
Both sides say boosting military cooperation is vital given the tense situation in the region, with North Korea's missile programme bringing the world closer to nuclear conflict than at any time since the Cold War.
China's steady expansion of its military and economic influence in Asia Pacific has also encouraged Japan and Australia to draw closer militarily.
On the trip, Turnbull inspected Australian-made military equipment used by the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, and urged the international community to keep up the pressure on North Korea.
"We discussed at considerable length the threats posed by the reckless rogue regime in North Korea," the Australian leader said at the press conference with Abe.
"We discussed the importance of ensuring the economic sanctions are enforced rigorously so that this regime is brought to its senses and stops threatening in the manner that it does the peace and stability of our region."
"History tells us a very bitter lesson about North Korea. They have a long habit of ratcheting up their militarisation and then going into a lull for a while, trying to persuade people they are changing their ways, changing nothing and then ratcheting up again," Turnbull said.
Turnbull's one-day visit included a special session of Japan's National Security Council and a visit by the reported train buff to Tokyo train station, one of the world's busiest.
He also met with Japanese business leaders, and Tokyo police officials to discuss general counter-terrorism efforts ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.