Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has somewhat turned down his rhetoric against China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, while on a trip to Japan seeking stronger defence ties with China’s long time strategic adversary.
On Thursday in Tokyo, Mr Turnbull gave praise to Japan for its strong adherence to international law, political stability and shared values with Australia regarding defence cooperation. He went on to say that the “strategic logic” driving Australia and Japan closer together was a natural response to a defence environment that was only getting “more dangerous and challenging” in the region.
Prime Minister Turnbull took a ride with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on a helicopter that delivered them to a Japanese training base. At the base the pair inspected a United States anti-missile system as well as Australian produced Bushmaster vehicles used by the Japanese military.
Mr Turnbull was expected to attend a special gathering of the Japanese National Security Council on Thursday evening. Prime Minister Abe said during the meeting that Australia and Japan had a defence partnership that shared “fundamental values” regarding human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
The Japanese media has been more direct with its framing of the talks, referring to them as a move to bolster regional security against North Korean and Chinese aggression.
Mr Turnbull’s defence visit to Japans comes during a tense time for Australian and Chinese relations following the Prime Minister’s new laws against foreign interference that were in clear response to China.
Malcolm Turnbull doubled down on his rhetoric against China which led to a worsening of relations between to the long-time trading partners. China has since stated it perceived “anti-china” rhetoric from the Australian government.
In a softening of his language towards China, Mr Turnbull gave praise on the “real progress” he believes China has made in its negotiations with countries in the South China Sea. He said “there was a more positive” direction towards the finalisation of a “code of conduct” and that he was “optimistic” of the disputes being resolved.
Despite this, the rhetoric in a joint statement with Prime Minister Abe was somewhat tougher, disclaiming that both leaders were still concerned about the South China Sea situation. In the letter they reinforced the importance of freedom in navigation and pushed for the “demilitarisation” of the disputed regions.
Both Turnbull and Abe said they would “remain in close communication” regarding the East China Sea, an area that Japan and China are currently disputing.
Media in China has been highly observant of Turnbull’s Japan visit, implying heavily that it was part of the creation of a military alliance to contain China. Radio in China quoted Chinese military experts who warned Australia of forming an “iron triangle” with the US and Japan in the region, threatening that this move could be a “dangerous step forward”.