Reimagining the Australia-Japan Relationship: Roundtable with Shiro Armstrong
On Wednesday 23rd June 2021, the Perth USAsia Centre hosted Associate Professor Shiro Armstrong, Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre (AJRC) at the Australian National University for a private roundtable discussion. Attended by leaders from government, business and academia, the event explored Australia’s bilateral relationship with Japan and how it serves broader regional and global objectives. The discussion aimed to shape ARJC’s upcoming report Reimagining the Japan Relationship, funded by the Australia-Japan Foundation.
To learn more about the Australia-Japan relationship, read the article below written by Research Officer Gemma King.
Japan has been an anchor for Australia’s strategic engagement in the Indo-Pacific, with a bilateral relationship underpinned by strong economic competition, deep people-to-people ties and a close political and security relationship. As the regional dynamic shifts and the rules-based order increasingly comes under threat, the assumptions that have guided the development of the Australia-Japan relationship need reassessment.
PROMOTING A RULES-BASED ECONOMIC ORDER
Underpinned by 70 years of trade ties and active participation in many global and regional economic institutions, Japan and Australia have a deep and mutually-beneficial economic relationship. Recent challenges to economic openness in the Indo-Pacific, including the rising trend towards protectionism and the emerging use of geoeconomics, have directly impacted the two counties. Japan and Australia are well poised to leverage their robust relationship to enhance cooperation in responding to regional economic challenges.
A key area for greater bilateral cooperation is advocacy for reform in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Its dispute settlement mechanism is ineffective, and the WTO has failed to produce any new agreements in the last thirty years. As the cornerstone of the rules-based global trading system that is increasingly coming under threat, the WTO is in desperate need of reform.
Japan and Australia have previously led the way in building the region’s economic architecture. When the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2017, Prime Minister Abe worked in partnership with Australia to rebuild the trade agreement, leading to the success of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – signed the following year. Japan and Australia should emulate this forward-looking cooperation to push for meaningful reform in the WTO.
There is significant opportunity for greater economic cooperation in addressing the Indo-Pacific infrastructure gap. As members of the Trilateral Partnership for Infrastructure Investment in the Indo-Pacific and Blue Dot Network, there is a clear framework for Japan and Australia to work together with the US on infrastructure. Delivering strategic infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific is one of the most tangible ways to promote growth, demonstrate regional leadership and further the three countries shared interests. Furthermore, these infrastructure initiatives will offer developing nations a credible alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
ENERGY COOPERATION AS A PLATFORM FOR A DEEPENED RELATIONSHIP
The renewable energy transformation provides significant opportunities for deeper cooperation. Japan’s net-zero emissions by 2050 target will fundamentally revise Japan’s policy on coal-fired power plants and promote alternative energy sources as the country moves to decarbonisation. Australia has the potential as a hydrogen supplier to meet Japan’s demand as a potential major market of clean energy. The recently signed Australia-Japan Joint Statement on Cooperation on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells demonstrates a clear shared agenda to this end and provides an important impetus for shifting hydrogen from the ‘idea’ phase to the ‘design’ phase.
A DEEPENED SECURITY AGENDA
Japan and Australia were both early proponents of the Indo-Pacific concept as a strategic framework for the region. Having upgraded ties to a Comprehensive Security Relationship in 2014, their shared strategic outlooks provide a framework for heightened security cooperation. Although not large enough to influence the region in their own right, Japan and Australia can combine their weight to create a strategic equilibrium that ensures the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific. Australia and Japan can mobilise coalitions and strengthen multilateral security architecture as seen in the Quad and Australia-Japan-India trilateral.
A strong, underlying relationship with strategic complementarities enables these potential areas for cooperation. However, this is not without challenges. In recent years, there has been an asymmetry in bilateral cooperation, with Japan more of a driver of the relationship than Australia. Australia must continue to invest in both Asia literacy and deepening its relationship with this key regional partner.
Japan is a natural partner for Australia to deliver on its national interests regionally and globally. However, as global fractures change the assumptions that have guided the relationship, it is crucial to reassess the bilateral to identify areas for enhanced cooperation.