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June 25, 2017

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Australia and Japan eye submarine deal and closer military relationship

TOKYO--A huge submarine deal is on the table this week when Japan and Australia meet to shore up their military relationship, as the security architecture of the Asia-Pacific shifts to meet the challenge of a rising China.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera will play hosts in Tokyo on Wednesday to Julie Bishop and David Johnston, their respective opposite numbers, for the fifth round of so-called "2+2" talks.

High on the agenda will be discussions on the transfer of Japanese submarine technology to Australia, with Canberra needing to replace its fleet of stealth subs over the coming years at a reported cost of up to US$37 billion.

This could see Tokyo's technology — or even entire Japanese-built vessels — used in the fleet, in a deal that would yoke the two nations together for several decades, binding their militaries with shared know-how.

The expected step comes as China's relentless rise alters the balance of power in a region long dominated by the United States, with Beijing ever-more willing to use its might to push territorial and maritime claims.

A rash of confrontations in the South China Sea has set off ripples of disquiet in the region, as has the festering stand-off with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.

The worries have encouraged a relationship-building drive across Asia, with Australia and Japan — both key U.S. allies — a notable pairing.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe signed a free trade pact and a security deal in April.

Following an Australian request, Tokyo will let Johnston see Japanese submarines during his stay, Onodera said.

The Japanese defense chief also stressed that various "frameworks" — military pacts — grouping Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are vital in ensuring security in East Asia.

Abe's Military Push

Abe looks to nudge long-pacifist Japan toward a more active role on the global stage, including loosening restrictions on when its well-equipped armed forces can act.

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