Japan’s ambassador has called on Morrison government to consider joint military exercises with Japan in the East China Sea, saying the shipping lane is just as important as the South China Sea to Australia’s security and prosperity.
Shingo Yamagami flagged the proposal in Canberra on Wednesday while pushing for Japan and Australia to lift their overall defence ties to “unprecedented” levels.
The Japanese ambassador to Australia told the National Press Club like-minded countries had to “join forces” to address challenges caused by the rise of China, which has adopted an increasingly assertive posture in both the South and East China seas.
And he dismissed the argument advanced by some analysts that the Japanese government had a more nuanced and effective strategy than Australia did when it came to dealing with China, insisting that “each and every day Japan is struggling”.
“We are in the same boat and we should work together,” Yamagami said.
Yamagami called for Australia and Japan to deepen cooperation in the East China Sea, where Tokyo has reported an influx of Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats near the Senkaku islands. The uninhabited islets are administered by Japan but are also claimed by China, where they are known as Diaoyu Dao.
The Japanese ambassador to Australia accused China of engaging in a “blatant attempt to challenge the status quo in the East China Sea”, but said the situation was “by no means unrelated to Australia”.
That was because Australia relied on shipping routes that passed through the East China Sea.
“In this respect, the East China Sea is just as crucial for Australia’s security and economic interest as the South [China Sea],” Yamagami said.
“Both are a lifeline for us. Any unilateral attempt to challenge the status quo by force or by coercion in these seas will inevitably impact upon our prosperity.”
When pressed on what sorts of joint activities in the East China Sea he had in mind, Yamagami said it would be up to Australia to ponder specific measures, but he nominated joint military exercises and intelligence gathering as examples that could be considered.
“I have an impression there seems to be rather implicit line drawn between the East China Sea and South China Sea, as if this line is a dividing one between fear of abandonment and the fear of entanglement,” he said.
Yamagami noted Australia and Japan were already working together to monitor and prevent ship-to-ship transfer of fuels bound for North Korea that are banned under United Nations security council resolutions, but “our horizon of cooperation is expanding day by day”.
Japan and Australia are in the closing stages of negotiating a defence agreement that will allow their forces to train in each other’s territory, something Yamagami described as a “significant milestone”.
He expected an increase in the complexity of defence exercises between Japan and Australia, including through air-to-air refuelling, to “further enhance deterrence in our region”.
Japan and Australia also wanted peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, he said. The current geopolitical tensions between China and the US should not be “understood in Cold War-era binary terms”.
On the climate crisis, Yamagami would not say whether Australia should follow Japan in firmly committing to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
He said Japan was “not here to lecture but to cooperate”, adding that both countries were “committed to a technology-led response to climate change”. Japan had “high hopes for Australia’s endeavour to become a world leader in hydrogen production and exports”.
Yamagami said he would not comment on Australian domestic politics – a reference to the Nationals pushing back at the possibility of the prime minister, Scott Morrison, making a net zero commitment at the climate conference in Glasgow in November.
Japan’s ministry of economy, trade and industry launched a study panel earlier this year to consider potential policies including carbon border tariffs, similar to a proposal the European Union announced last week.
Yamagami said carbon tariffs required “careful consideration” to ensure consistency with global trading rules and “transparency on the part of countries which are trying to impose such measures”.