Australia and Japan agreed on Saturday to share sensitive intelligence and deepen their defense cooperation, signing a security pact to counter China’s military buildup.
Prime Ministers Fumio Kishida and Anthony Albanese signed the accord in the city of Perth, Western Australia, revamping a dusty 15-year agreement drafted when terrorism and arms proliferation were primary concerns.
As part of the deal, the countries’ defense forces will train together in Australia’s north and “expand and strengthen cooperation in defence, intelligence sharing” and many other areas, it said. Australian officials.
“This historic statement sends a strong signal to the region of our strategic alignment,” Albanese said, welcoming the “Joint Statement on Security Cooperation.”
Kishida said the deal was a response to an “increasingly challenging strategic environment”, without mentioning China or North Korea by name.
Neither Australia nor Japan have the ranks of overseas intelligence agents and foreign informants needed to play in the major leagues of global espionage.
Japan does not have a foreign spy agency equivalent to the US CIA, Britain’s MI6 or Russia’s FSB. Australia’s ASIO is only a fraction of the size of these organisations.
But according to expert Bryce Wakefield, Australia and Japan have formidable geospatial signals and capabilities, electronic eavesdropping tools and high-tech satellites that provide invaluable intelligence on adversaries.
Wakefield, director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, said the agreement is another signal that Japan is becoming more active in security.
“It’s an important deal as Japan hasn’t openly worked with partners outside of the United States on security,” he said. “It could actually become a model for cooperation with other countries, for example the UK.”
Some even see the deal as another step towards Japan joining the powerful Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
It is “a historic event that Japan can share SIGINT with any foreign nation except the United States,” Ken Kotani, an expert in Japanese intelligence history at Nihon University, told AFP.
“It will strengthen the framework of the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the United States) and is the first step for Japan to join the Five Eyes,” he added.
“Leaks like a sieve”
Such a suggestion would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, but events in Japan’s neighborhood have forced a rethink of the country’s pacifist policies established in the aftermath of World War II.
In recent years, North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles over and around Japan, while China has built the world’s largest navy, revamped the world’s largest standing army, and amassed a nuclear arsenal and ballistics at the gates of Japan.
But obstacles remain for closer security cooperation between Tokyo and its allies.
Intelligence sharing between Japan and its allies has been hampered by long-standing concerns about Tokyo’s ability to handle sensitive confidential information and transmit it securely.
“To put it bluntly, Japan has traditionally leaked like a sieve,” said Brad Williams, author of a book on Japanese intelligence policy and a professor at City University of Hong Kong.
Laws have been introduced to more severely punish intelligence leaks, but for now Australia will likely be forced to sanitize any intelligence it passes to Japan for information gleaned from the Five Eyes network.
Earths, wind and fire
Prime Ministers Kishida and Albanese also promised greater cooperation on critical minerals, environment and energy.
Japan is a major buyer of Australian gas and has made a series of big bets on Australian-generated hydrogen power as it tries to reduce the lack of domestic power generation and dependence on fossil fuels.
“Japan imports 40% of its LNG from Australia. It is therefore very important for Japan to have a stable relationship with Australia, from an energy point of view,” a Japanese official said ahead of the meeting.
A memorandum of understanding on critical minerals will see Japan tap into Australia’s supply of rare earths, which are crucial to producing everything from wind turbines to electric vehicles.
China currently dominates the world’s production of critical minerals, raising concerns among some that supplies could be cut off for political reasons.