Jhe recent security pact between Australia and Japan is the best example of how states are forging partnerships to address non-traditional security challenges while countering the growing assertiveness of rival states in the region. There is no doubt that this security pact between Australia and Japan will intensify the ongoing geopolitical rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region, as the increased security of one creates insecurity for other states in the international relations, known as the “security dilemma”.
Current situation in the Indo-Pacific
The late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe originally proposed the Indo-Pacific concept in 2007 under the banner of “confluence of two oceans.” Geographically, the Indo-Pacific refers to the region between the Indian and Pacific oceans that is interconnected. From a geostrategic point of view, the Indo-Pacific has been considered as a single space that spans both oceans and is connected by the Strait of Malacca, crucial for the transport of energy and goods. The Indo-Pacific has become a theater of geostrategic power games for several reasons. The first is China’s growing influence in the region. And that prompted the United States to roll out its own initiatives to try to counterbalance China’s growing influence there, which is the second reason.
China has successfully established itself as a regional power over the past decades. Its growing economic and military power is a major concern for the United States and its allies in the region. China is now striving to expand its dominance in the world, which makes the Indo-Pacific very crucial for China. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been instrumental in expanding its influence in the strategically important Indo-Pacific. Under the BRI, China has been able to deepen its bilateral relations with coastal states in the region by establishing new trade ties, offering financial assistance and disbursing massive aid. In addition, China’s defense budget has quadrupled since 2007 and now maintains the largest maritime navy in the world.
The United States, in response, shifted its focus from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific as part of the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” (IPS) in 2017. It aims to maintain an “Indo-Pacific free and open” and to establish a “rule-based international order” against aggressive Chinese behavior in the region. Such Chinese claims in the South and East China Seas have drawn international criticism and prompted collective responses by forming alliances with like-minded states. The growing number of security alliances has been a major highlight in the Indo-Pacific. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as QUAD, as well as AUKUS, ANZUS and Five Eyes are the main alliances in the Indo-Pacific region.The recent security pact signed between Australia and Japan is a new addition to the existing framework to counter China’s growing influence in the region. a big difference here is that the newly signed security pact is bilateral while the others are multilateral in nature.
The pact in the changing geopolitical environment of the Indo-Pacific
On October 22, 2022, at the annual Australia-Japan Leaders Meeting in Perth, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signed a new bilateral security pact. It is basically an update of a 15 years old agreement between the two nations which was signed in 2007. The new security pact is based on a “reciprocal access agreementwhich Kishida signed with then-Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison in January 2022, removing barriers to holding joint military exercises in either country. This means deepening security cooperation between Australia and Japan, which both share a common perception of the threat emanating from China. As Kishida said, the new security arrangement was crafted in response to a “increasingly difficult strategic environment” in the region. Moreover, it was the fourth time that the two leaders had met since May. In 2014, the two countries transformed their bilateral relations into a “special strategic partnership”. On the occasion of the signing of the new security pact, the Australian Prime Minister Told that “this historic declaration sends a strong signal to the region of our strategic alignment”. The two leaders also claimed that the pact will act as a “compass” for security collaboration for the next decade and beyond.
The recently signed security pact has multiple dimensions as it includes not only military-to-military cooperation, but also non-traditional security cooperations such as in the fields of economy, energy and environment. Under the pact, Australia and Japan will share more sensitive intelligence, as well as joint military exercises between the Australian Armed Forces and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in northern Australia. Security cooperation is crucial in the sense that just last year Japanese fighter jets had to rush 722 times in response to Chinese aircraft repeatedly violating Japan’s territorial sovereignty. Both leaders also expressed their commitment to nuclear disarmament, which was originally an important component of the Draft declaration 2007. Now the issue has been rearranged under fears of Russian nuclear strikes on Ukraine and North Korean missiles near Japan. Moreover, the agreement has opened a new window of cybersecurity cooperation between the countries.
From an economic perspective, the agreement hints at working together to “resist economic coercion and misinformation,” what China commonly calls accused To do. China is accused of pursuing a “neo-techno nationalist” policy and continually favoring its own industry over others by violating the rule of law in international trade.
Implications for regional geopolitics
It is the first time that Japan has entered into a security pact other than the United States, which means that the two countries are trying to jointly affirm a regional partnership without involving any outside power. As Thomas Wilkins states, bilateral collaboration between the two countries has solidified as “fixationof their foreign, economic and security policy. In addition, like Article 3 of the ANZUS Treaty, Article 6 of the pact deals with mutual consultation on common dangers that may affect national sovereignty and regional security interests, emphasizing the close links between the Australian and Japanese security communities. This pact also signals Japan’s exit from post-war constitutional constraints. In addition to this agreement, Japan previously passed “peace and security legislation” in 2015, which now allows the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to escort and protect military personnel from other countries who are helping to defend Japan, as well as to use the right of collective self-defense in a situation where survival is threatened. But that was not possible when Australia and Japan signed the 2007 declaration. Although the pact does not openly mention China as a threat unlike the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), there is no doubt that the pact is directed against Beijing. Recently, China signed a five-year security agreement with Solomon Island, located about 2,000 km northeast of Australia. There is no doubt that this newly signed pact will serve as a model for greater security cooperation at the bilateral level and strengthen existing security cooperation. Many have also raised the possibility of Japan joining “Five Eyes” on the continuation of this historic agreement with Australia. Also of economic and energy security, this pact will help reduce Japan’s dependence on China for energy and critical materials that have become issues of great concern to the contemporary world.
From a US perspective, this pact can be seen as complementary to US ambition in the region under the umbrella of its Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). Significantly, the security pact was signed just over a week after the Biden administration released a new National Security Strategy which singles out China as its primary target despite devoting most of its resources to waging a proxy war in Ukraine. Not to mention that Australia and Japan are two crucial partners of the United States in their competition against China. Unsurprisingly, the leaders of Australia and Japan have expressed their intention to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” which is tied to the US IPS. On the other hand, China stressed that the recently signed pact will only strengthen Washington’s position in the Indo-Pacific under the IPS. They argued that it would help the United States create a global intelligence-sharing network with its allies against China. Chinese experts have also critical Australia and Japan for their desire to be the pawns of the United States.
From a regional perspective, this pact will intensify geopolitical competition in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen existing security alliances in the region with the common goal of countering China. However, it can also hamper regional peace and stability, as states will be more interested in competition than cooperation.
The security pact between Australia and Japan is the result of the changing geopolitical environment in the Indo-Pacific. Japan, once solely dependent on outside energy for its protection, is now increasing its defense budget and entering into bilateral security partnerships. This security agreement will intensify regional geopolitical competition between powerful states in the region, which could create security threats to regional peace and stability. On a positive note, this security pact can also work as a balancing tool that will deter China from taking an aggressive stance in the region.
[Photo by Cabinet Public Relations Office, Cabinet Secretariat, Japan, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Muhammad Estiak Hussian is a research analyst at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).