Photo: AP © Issei Kato

On January 6, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida signed the Mutual Access Agreement (RAA), a defense and security treaty aimed at strengthening the alliance between the two countries.

As members of the US-led Quad group (along with India), both countries (Australia and Japan) already considered themselves allies in the region. So, back in 2007, Tokyo and Canberra signed a joint declaration on security cooperation, seeking to coordinate issues such as border security, counter-terrorism operations and defense missions abroad.

Nevertheless, according to British experts from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) analytical center, the RAA is aimed at developing these relations, allowing the armed forces of Australia and Japan to use each other's military bases without any problems and ensuring that the military of the two states will be able to conduct more complex exercises in the region.

It can be stated that the RAA establishes a legislative framework to increase compatibility and capabilities between the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) and the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) during military exercises and disaster relief operations.

After coming into force, the agreement will allow to increase the number and scale of bilateral exercises between Australia and Japan in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as facilitate Australia's participation in multilateral exercises, for example, in the annual naval exercises "Malabar", in which the United States, Japan and India participate.

The Mutual Access Agreement became the second major defense document implying joint military access, which Japan signed after the country reached agreements with the United States (the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States), under which the Americans can keep warships, troops and weapons on the territory of the Asian state.

At the same time, the EIU adds that Japan is still guided by its pacifist constitution, which sets strict restrictions on the development and deployment of its armed forces. However, it is worth noting here that such a constitution did not appear because of the peaceful views of Japanese politicians, but as a result of the defeat of the country in World War II and does not fully reflect the real intentions of the authorities in Tokyo. The desire to regain the Kuril Islands is a vivid example of this.

Like Japan, Australia views the United States as its main security partner – a fact that was confirmed by the signing of the AUKUS agreement in 2021.

Moreover, on January 7, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi held a virtual 2+2 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin to discuss regional security issues.

"The Ministers expressed their concern that China's continued efforts to undermine the rules-based order are creating political, economic, military and technological challenges for the region and the world. They decided to work together to deter and, if necessary, respond to destabilizing activities in the region," the joint statement on the results of the meeting said.

More importantly, even before the start of negotiations, Anthony Blinken said that the United States and Japan plan to conclude a new defense agreement and stressed that the alliance of Washington and Tokyo "should not only strengthen existing tools, but also develop new ones."

However, back to the RAA.

According to British analysts from the EIU, the impetus for this deal was "China's ambitions in the region." At the same time, the reason is called "Beijing's alleged aggression against Taiwan, as well as ongoing disputes with Asian countries in the South China Sea."

Political ties between Australia and China have been deteriorating for several years, with the former criticizing the latter's policies in Hong Kong, as well as Beijing's "connection" with the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Beijing says that Australian politicians are guilty of "abuse of authority." Together with the signing of AUKUS and the tightening of domestic legislation, including regulating foreign investment, Australia is laying the foundation for long-term distancing from its largest export market.

In general, the British version is confirmed by American experts from IHS Global Insight, who state that although the RAA does not directly mention mainland China, Morrison and Kishida in a joint statement issued after the summit expressed "serious concern about the situation in the South China Sea", and also confirmed their "strong objection to illegal maritime claims and China's actions"

As a result, the EIU states that the signing of the RAA confirms the existing forecasts of their analysts that anti-Chinese sentiment in Asia will grow in the coming years among countries loyal to the United States.

In turn, Global Insight believes that in 2022, the Kishida administration will continue to strive to improve bilateral security cooperation with various partners and work on new interstate documents on the transfer of military equipment, as well as further agreements aimed at strengthening practical cooperation in the field of security.

The RAA does not need the approval of the Australian Parliament, but is likely to receive the approval of the parliament in Japan during its regular session starting in mid-January 2022.

And although the agreement itself is unlikely to trigger retaliatory actions by the Chinese government against Australia and Japan, but if the agreement is followed by increased participation of the two countries in issues that Beijing considers its "red lines", for example, increased presence in the South China Sea or joint military exercises with Taiwan, Beijing will be forced to take retaliatory actions. Most likely – economic, or rather – to introduce trade restrictions.

The new agreement between Japan and Australia is undoubtedly aimed, among other things, at deepening Tokyo's integration with the new American alliance – AUKUS, which should be considered primarily as a counterweight to Chinese influence and military power in the region. It is no secret that currently the main priority of American foreign policy is the confrontation with the Middle Kingdom. For the sake of concentrating forces in this direction, Washington is weakening its presence in the Middle East, an example of which is the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Even the beginning of negotiations with Russia on security issues is considered by many experts precisely in the context of the American buildup of forces in the Chinese direction.

The introduction of Tokyo into the AUKUS defense alliance and the signing of the RAA should be considered precisely in the context of the consolidation of US forces in the confrontation with Beijing. And the rhetoric of the participants during the negotiations on January 7, as well as after them, only confirms such a scenario.