Australia and Japan have agreed to establish a regionally provocative defence technology and equipment partnership, which will facilitate the development of cutting edge military science, and even the exchange of new generation weapons between the two countries.
As Prime Minister Tony Abbott flies from Tokyo to Seoul on Tuesday and then on to China, a series of formal and informal talks in Tokyo have yielded several material developments both countries are lauding as the fruits of a deepening and broadening of the relationship.
But other powers in the region have taken a dim view of recent increases in Japanese defence spending and are unlikely to welcome Australia's active participation.
Canberra officials played down the defence deal, claiming it was merely an incremental advance on previous Japan-Australia military to military co-operation, but that may not be how it is seen in the region.
Mr Abbott, however, said on Tuesday that Australia’s enhanced security co-operation with Japan shouldn’t raise concerns in China.
Mr Abbott said there was already a high degree of co-operation between Australia and Japan on defence and security. The countries’ respective defence forces hold exercises together and Japan has purchased some Australian defence equipment, including Bushmaster armoured infantry transport vehicles.
‘‘We want to see more inter-operability between our militaries, we want to see more exercises between our militaries, we want to see over time more significant intelligence co-operation,’’ he told ABC radio.
But this special relationship shouldn’t raise concerns in China, which Mr Abbott will visit on Wednesday.
‘‘It’s not against any specific country and as far as I am concerned - as far as just about every country is concerned - what we want to see is more democracy, more freedom, more respect for the rule of law,’’ he said.
Mr Abbott said Australia was takings no side in the territorial disputes between China and other nations, including Japan, adding that Australia was calling only for those disputes to be resolved peacefully.
‘‘We say there should be no change to the status quo, which is brought about by force or by the threat of force,’’ he said.
Winding up his three-day state visit, Mr Abbott and his counterpart, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, agreed to start the ball rolling on the defence technology arrangement, effectively giving Tokyo Australia's imprimatur to continue along the controversial path of building its military capacity from officially pacifist to something more assertive.
While Mr Abbott's advisers were happier to talk about the Economic Partnership Agreement reached on Sunday, a senior official confirmed the defence partnership is of major significance in Japan.
The source said having a regional player with global credibility backing Japan's re-emergence as a strategic power validated the idea of Tokyo providing a counterweight to Beijing.
Following Monday's bilateral talks, Mr Abe spoke of the importance of the defence aspect of their agreements. Mr Abbott, however, omitted to mention defence crucially aware that being seen to encourage Japanese nationalist sentiment and remilitarisation would be exceedingly unpopular in South Korea - where Mr Abbott will be on Tuesday - and in China.
Relations between the Chinese and Japanese governments are at a low point amid tensions over territorial claims in the East China Sea, and rivalries over economic and strategic power in North Asia.
And Tokyo's relationship with Seoul is also strained.
"In the field of security, we decided to commence negotiations towards a framework agreement for corporation in the area of defence, equipment and technology,'' Mr Abe advised after their talks.
"Furthermore, it was confirmed that the inter-operability between the defence organisations of the two countries will be improved so that practical co-operation between our two countries; including combined defence training can further be expanded in a strategic manner ... both Japan and Australia will continue to work together towards our common goals such as realising peace and stability in the region as well as the international community and establishing respect for the rule of law over our oceans and airspaces."
In a communique the pair noted, Messrs Abe and Abbott praised "the two countries' complementary strengths and shared interests in co-operation on defence science, technology, and equipment and decided to commence negotiations toward a framework agreement in this field".
The story Tony Abbott agrees to provocative defence technology partnership with Japan first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.