Christopher Pyne backs Japanese defence spending amid concerns over strike capability
Mr Pyne said he hoped Australia and Japan would conduct more operations in the South China Sea. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
Australia’s Defence Minister has backed Japan’s proposal to massively increase its defence spending, despite concerns such moves could violate the country’s constitution and cause alarm in the Indo-Pacific region.
- Japan will refit the Izumo helicopter carrier so it can deploy F35 Joint Strike Fighters
- Mr Pyne said the Australian Government supported Japan increasing its military capabilities
- Negotiations will resume over a defence cooperation agreement
Christopher Pyne said he hoped that Australia and Japan would conduct more operations in the contested South China Sea.
The Minister is in Tokyo for meetings with defence counterparts and during his visit inspected one of the most controversial vessels in the Japanese navy fleet — the Izumo helicopter carrier.
As part of a major defence spending increase, the Japanese Government will refit the Izumo to convert it into a ship that can deploy expensive, US made F35 Joint Strike Fighters.
Critics say possession of an aircraft carrier would give Japan a strike capability — in violation of its pacifist constitution that limits use of force to self-defence only.
Japan, under the new defence guidelines, also plans to possess cruise missiles designed to hit enemy targets, which opponents say could violate Japan’s pacifist principle.
The Japanese Government will refit the Izumo so that it can deploy F35 Joint Strike Fighters. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
“The Australian Government supports Japan increasing its military capability both from a defence point of view and from a point of view of ensuring it has a forward deployment capacity,” Mr Pyne told the ABC.
“So the Izumo being capable of carrying F35’s … is something the Australian Government welcomes and we would like to see Japan taking on more responsibility in north Asia for the security and stability of the region.”
Japanese Defence officials have dismissed criticism of the Izumo’s refit, arguing that it will be used only as an aircraft carrier when necessary for national defence.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long wanted to revise the country’s US drafted constitution that renounces war.
Tokyo’s new defence guidelines approved late last year identify the need for increased missile defence and fighter capability as North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats remain unchanged.
“Another meeting between President Trump and the President of North Korea is a welcome development as long as it leads to outcomes — and the outcome we want is the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
“We haven’t seen concrete steps from the DPRK yet in denuclearisation.”
Japanese defence officials say the Izumo will only be used as an aircraft carrier when necessary. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
Japan’s defence guidelines also found China’s military activities in the East China Sea and other surrounding waters are a source of “strong concern” in the region.
China urged Japan to stick to a defence-only policy and peaceful development.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson argued Tokyo was making “groundless and irresponsible accusations against China’s normal defence construction and military activities” to play up the China threat.
Mr Pyne — who will visit Beijing for the first time as Defence Minister this week — said he would be very surprised if it came up as an issue during talks.
Defence cooperation agreement could be signed this year
Mr Pyne and his Japanese defence counterpart will also resume negotiations over a defence cooperation agreement that would help the Australian and Japanese defence forces cooperate more seamlessly.
For example, during the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, Australian C17 aircraft flew in equipment but struggled to get it off because of administrative procedures that had not been agreed upon beforehand, according to Professor John Blaxland from the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.
Negotiations over the Reciprocal Access Agreement have been going on for years — and the ABC understands discussions are focusing on the legal status of Australian troops in Japan.
Mr Pyne (left) said he hoped the agreement would be signed in the first quarter of this year. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
Mr Pyne said he hoped the agreement would be signed in the first quarter of this year, but would not elaborate on why negotiations were yet to be finalised.
It is a sensitive issue for Tokyo because of several recent issues with US troops stationed in the country.
There are about 50,000 American troops in Japan at several bases, and there are tensions stemming from a series of aircraft accidents and serious crimes.
In 2016, the murder of a woman was linked to an ex-Marine employed at one of the bases, which led to a temporary ban on alcohol as well as a midnight curfew.
But the big difference between the US and Australia in Japan is that there will not be a permanent base.