Japan Symposium 2021

Convened by the Perth USAsia Centre in collaboration with the Japanese Consulate in Perth, the 2021 Japan Symposium examined the complex issues that Japan and Australia face in terms of free trade and value chains; and explored opportunities for the two nations to enhance cooperation – both bilaterally, and with regional partners.

On Wednesday 17th March and Wednesday 24th March, private half day dialogues were held followed by a public event on Thursday 25th March at the University Club of Western Australia.
Now in its fourth annual iteration, the Symposium brought together senior officials, experts, and strategic thinkers from Australia and Japan for expert discussions on economic cooperation between the two countries, and ways to preserve an open and rules-based economic region. After opening remarks by The Hon Richard Court AC, the event began with keynote addresses by Japan’s Ambassador to Australia, Yamagami Shingo, and the Hon Julie Bishop, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chancellor of the Australian National University.

Ambassador’s address

Building on a foundation of trust

In one of his first public speeches since taking up the role in December 2020, His Excellency Yamagami Shingo observed how the way forward for Japan and Australia has been driven by the two nations’ shared values and strategic interests. In particular, the Ambassador noted the long-standing shared commitment to a rules-based trading system.

Japan and Australia’s trade relationship has an extensive history that extends as far back as the 19th century. With the signing of the bilateral Commerce Agreement relationship over 60 years ago, this relationship has flourished; today Japan accounts for approximately 10% of Australia’s total exports. This liberalisation of bilateral trade, according to His Excellency, has “helped to forge a deep trust between our business leaders, giving them confidence and eagerness to invest.”

But Australia-Japan cooperation extends beyond the bilateral. The two countries were the driving force behind the establishment of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and, on the global stage, they will work together to expand the CPTPP, implement RCEP, and develop reforms for the WTO (including its DSM).

Aside from trade, the Ambassador highlighted other key areas of shared interest between the two countries, such as the commitment to preserving stability at both the bi- and multi-lateral scales; the shared vision for a low-emissions future; and – noting that both countries have been global frontrunners in managing the COVID-19 pandemic – their strong desire for prosperity in a post-pandemic future.

Concluding his remarks, Ambassador Yamagami contended that a strong foundation of trust has been created between the two nations, and that shared values and strategic interests will help to overcome increasing complexities in the Indo-Pacific and threats to the rules-based order.

The US-China power dynamic

Following on from the Ambassador’s address, the Hon Julie Bishop reiterated the commitment to democracy and the rules-based order that Australia and Japan share, calling the Australia-Japan relationship a vital bedrock of Australia’s international engagement, both economically and strategically.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released Referencing the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, designed to advance Australia’s security and prosperity amid an increasingly competitive global landscape. Now, 40% of the way through the White Paper’s lifespan, Ms Bishop contended that its observations are more relevant than ever, with the US – the “world’s sole superpower” – under challenge from a rising power in China.

With China deeply embedded in the global economy and critical to many supply chains, Ms Bishop suggested that Japan and Australia can work to buffer against China’s more aggressive behaviours by building stronger international networks such as the Quad, and by continuing to play a constructive role in multilateralism.

Many nations around the world have a keen interest in the US-China dynamic; just two months after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Ms Bishop highlighted consistent themes surrounding the US-China dynamic currently emerging amongst former leaders of Indo-Pacific nations:

  1. China will be an increasingly serious challenge through its economic heft, cyber capabilities, and its increasingly powerful military.
  2. The US must get its house in order politically and economically, to maintain an international leadership role and to maintain international respect.
  3. Economic factors are more influential than military in the minds of nations of the Indo-Pacific.
  4. There’s a level of decoupling in the technology space between the United States and China, so there needs to be a concerted effort among Western nations to maintain a technological edge through coordinated research and development.
  5. Nations are not comfortable with a world dominated by an authoritarian regime, and nations of the Indo-Pacific are looking for more, not less, US leadership.

Ms Bishop then called on Australia to deepen its ties with the United States. As friends of the US, Ms Bishop noted that it is “important that the Biden administration hears from us that it needs to achieve greater bipartisanship in Washington, particularly on foreign policy, and that it needs to address concerns about the US economy.”


While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many challenges facing the world today, as Ms Bishop notes, “there were already forces at work driving long-term change”:

  1. The great power competition between the United States and China, which is likely to escalate under the Biden administration.
  2. Declining support for the post-World War II consensus, the rules-based order, the institutions and conventions and treaties and norms underpinned by international law that has evolved over the past 75 years and seeks to manage the behaviour of states and towards each other.
  3. The fourth industrial revolution: the technology revolution impacting our lives in dramatic ways.
  4. Climate change, which will have implications for food security and water supplies and natural disasters.

Concluding her address, Ms Bishop urged nations and their leaders to develop evidence-based policies and uphold the commitment to the rules-based order. Turning to Japan and Australia, Ms Bishop stated that the two nations will continue to strengthen their partnership, as they have shown over many years that they can have a greater impact for good when acting together.

Following these addresses was a panel discussion with both speakers led by Senior Policy Fellow, Hayley Channer, which also featured the Hon. Richard Court AC, and Professor Gordon Flake. The panel explored the implications of expanding the Quad; changing support for Democracy in some nations of Southeast Asia; and what Japan and Australia can do to ensure that India becomes a part of RCEP, and the United States becomes a part of the CPTPP.

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