Australia and Japan are expected to reach a defence agreement that entrenches an “elevated strategic relationship” during Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s upcoming visit to the East Asian nation, an ANU expert says.

Dr Shiro Armstrong, Director of the ANU Australia-Japan Research Centre, said Mr Morrison is the first foreign leader to visit Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“Alongside deepening bilateral ties, Australia and Japan have an opportunity to steer broader regional outcomes as they seek economic recovery from the pandemic and deal with great power rivalry between China and the United States,” Dr Armstrong said.

“Japan is Australia’s most important partner in Asia. It’s also the world’s third largest economy and important to regional peace, prosperity and stability.

“For Japan, Australia’s by far its largest supplier of energy and strategic raw materials, and now becomes only the second country after the United States to share such close military and security ties.”

Dr Armstrong said the strong relationship is on display symbolically, as Mr Morrison’s long anticipated trip – postponed twice due to bushfires and the pandemic – will cost him two weeks in quarantine upon his return to Australia.

“The groundwork for the new defence agreement was laid recently in visits to Japan by Defence Minister Reynolds last month and more recently by Foreign Minister Payne for the ministerial meeting of the quadrilateral security dialogue, or the Quad, with India and the United States,” Dr Armstrong said.

As US allies that both have China as their largest trading partner, Australia and Japan are anchors of stability and security in the region, he said.

“Together they have the ability to steer and shape positive regional outcomes,” Dr Armstrong said.

“A major boost to that endeavour is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement concluded on the eve of the visit.”

The regional trade agreement includes Australia, Japan, the 10 ASEAN countries in Southeast Asia plus China, New Zealand and South Korea.

“It’s the largest trade deal in the world except the World Trade Organization that provides the multilateral scaffolding for it,” Dr Armstrong said.

Read Dr Armstrong’s opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald.

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