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Japan and Australia discuss closer military ties and submarine deals

TOKYO--Japan and Australia said Wednesday they have stepped up their defense ties and moved toward a possible future submarine deal, as a rising China stirs tension in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera met with in Tokyo with Julie Bishop and David Johnston, their respective opposite numbers, for the fifth round of so-called “2+2” talks.

The Japanese said the two sides reached a broad agreement on a legal framework to allow the two nations to conduct joint research and trade in defense equipment.

“We reached a conclusion on negotiations for an agreement on cooperation in the field of defense equipment and technology,” Onodera said in a joint press conference.

He said details of the pact still needed to be ironed out.

But Bishop stressed that Japan and Australia are “natural partners” who are developing their “strong relationship” into a “special relationship.”

Johnston said Australia was particularly interested in Japanese diesel-electric submarines, although he added that Canberra has also approached other partner nations to study their submarine technologies.

Following an Australian request, Johnston will be given an extensive look at Japanese submarines during his stay.

Australia needs to replace its fleet of stealth subs over the coming years at a reported cost of up to US$37 billion.

The potential deal between the two nations could boost Japan's defense industry, while also further cementing relations both economically and militarily.

Onodera also said the two nations are looking to boost the interoperability of their troops through more joint drills, humanitarian assistance programs, disaster relief and projects to ensure maritime security.

The ministers agreed on joint basic research for marine hydrodynamics to be applied for construction of future military vessels and submarines.

The ministers voiced their rejection of “the use of force or coercion to unilaterally alter the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea” in an apparent reference to China's increasingly aggressive territorial claims.

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Australia's Defense Minister David Johnston, left, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, center, pose for photos with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Wednesday, June 11.

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