Friends and neighbours

6 August 2015

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Deepening ties between Australia and Japan in the past few years have led to each nation considering the other its most important security partner after the United States, a think tank says.

Researchers from Japan, the US and Australia, including Professor William Tow and Dr David Envall from the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at ANU, make the observation in a new paper, US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges.

Released by a US-based think tank, The Stimson Center, the paper examines prospects for greater defence and security cooperation between Australia, Japan and the US, including in capacity-building and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Another of the authors, Associate Professor Ken Jimbo, from the Department of Policy Management at Keio University in Japan, was at ANU last week to help promote the paper.

The project began two years ago, when Professor Jimbo and Yuki Tatsumi from the Stimson Center, who had together been researching the trilateral relationship, decided to develop an ‘alliance-plus’ project – looking at how US–Japan security relations can affect other countries in the US’s ‘hub-and-spokes’ alliance.

“We initially thought about [focusing on South] Korea,” Professor Jimbo says, “but Korea has been in a very difficult position lately, especially in its relations with Japan. After [South Korean President] Park’s visit to [the disputed] Takeshima/Dokdo Islands there was a lot of turmoil over history.”

Instead, they decided to examine Australia, as Australia–Japan relations have improved markedly in recent years. Professor Jimbo credits this to the strong relationship between Prime Ministers Abbott and Abe, and he can see the effect this has had on the trilateral relationship.

“I think what makes trilateral relations vibrant is essentially the development of the intra-spokes cooperation, that is, between Japan and Australia. In that regard, our project and the development of the process coincidentally worked well with each other.”

During his visit, Professor Jimbo addressed undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of International Relations at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. He also met with officials from the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He has visited Canberra several times before, and has an ongoing association with ANU.

“[Professor] Bill Tow has been great,” he says. “He’s organised many projects in past years, and I was part of his project in 2008. So my initial contacts with ANU were through Bill’s projects that I participated in. Also, whenever the Japanese Embassy has special programs for Japanese scholars to visit Australia and give a lecture, ANU has always been a host, and I also participated in DFAT’s special visit program in 2006, before Australia hosted the APEC Summit. They generously gave me a chance to visit Canberra, and ANU organised many of the events, so the university has hosted me on numerous occasions.”

Professor Jimbo hopes the project will resonate not only in academia but also in public policy circles.

“Our ideas have to be shared among people at least to stimulate some of the idea creation processes, because some of the ideas that we’ve proposed have been quite ambitious,” he says. “Normally, official members will have more building-block processes, and gradualism is almost a guiding principle for government officials. But I think the role academics can play is to show the frameworks and also the directions that trilateral cooperation can proceed in.”

Professor Jimbo’s next projects will be completing a book on the South China Sea and beginning to develop a new theoretical framework on the Asian security order. He hopes the group’s work on the trilateral relationship can inspire a younger generation of strategic thinkers.

“I hope that many of the ANU students can have access to our report. [The report has a lot of ideas] about Australia’s next strategy towards the alliance, maritime security and so on, and I hope that this could really stimulate future generations’ debate on defence and security.”

The full text of US–Japan–Australia Security Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges is available on the Stimson Center website.

 

 

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