Japan and Australia took steps last week to strengthen their defense ties, and deepen relations at a time when concern about China’s growing strength in the region is rising. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison met on Friday in Darwin, the northern Australian city that was bombed by the Japanese during World War II. The two leaders visited a war memorial there and paid tribute to the war’s casualties.
Abe’s one-day visit gave the leaders the opportunity to present a united front for their shared vision of promoting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the rule of international law and continuing infrastructure projects from Asia to Africa.. It was also a sign of the success the United States is having in forging an alliance in the Indo-Pacific region to act as a counterbalance to China’s increasing influence and power.
Some television pundits, and academics think otherwise, and made their opinions known over the weekend. They believe the tightening of relations between Japan and Australia is an indicator that America’s traditional allies in the region are coming together in the face of a rising China, and an unpredictable US president who might not be there to help when the chips are down.
The Trump administration’s foreign policy record since January 2017 proves their theory holds no water. From the beginning of his term, President Trump has adopted a firm position on China and acted on it. He has tackled the North Korea nuclear crisis head on. Although real progress has been slow in coming, Trump’s efforts have things moving in the right direction for the first time in over a decade. Regarding America’s allies in the region, Trump has openly engaged Japan, South Korea, Australia, and other friendly nations in the Western Pacific. He has also moved towards closer relations with India, recognizing the South Asia nation as a natural equalizer to China.
It has taken a long time, but Western Pacific nations are finally recognizing the potential threat China poses to their interests, and to their sovereignty. Expect to see relations between Japan and Australia continue growing closer, and similar interactions involving South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines will likely be seen in the near future.