Shinzo Abe’s visit will strengthen Australia’s ties with Japan


This article by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first appeared in The Weekend Australian on Saturday, 14 January 2017:

The relationship between Australia and Japan has never been stronger. Our shared commitment to democratic values, the rule of law, and a secure and prosperous region makes our countries close economic and strategic partners. A strong relationship delivers tangible benefits to the people of both nations.

So I am very pleased to be able to welcome Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Sydney this weekend. We have much to discuss. Shinzo and I have become good friends, and our friendship builds on a remarkable matrix of personal connections over the decades.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of our joint declaration on security co-operation, concluded between John Howard and Abe when he first served as prime ­minister.

That agreement presaged the upgrading of bilateral security co-operation.

Sixty years ago, Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, signed the commerce agreement with Australia that laid the foundation for our economic co-operation.

Today, in the face of rising protectionism, our commitment to open markets is more important than ever.

The special strategic partnership between Australia and Japan is much more than formal alliances and agreements. Fifty thousand Australians are of Japanese heritage and there are now more Australian children studying Japanese than almost any other foreign language.

We have seen huge recent growth in tourism between the two countries. The number of Australians visiting Japan and Japanese visiting Australia increased by more than 20 per cent in the past year. Personal connections give the relationship real depth and ballast. Australians know Japan and they regard it positively.

Australia counts Japan among its closest security and defence partners, guided by our shared commitment to pursuing peace and stability in our region. We are “all-weather” friends who can rely on one another. Individually and collectively with other partners, we support peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and the rules-based international order that provides its foundation.

Today this co-operation is expanding into areas such as cybersecurity, space and defence science, counter-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation. This co-operation is more important than ever. The region is undergoing momentous change and faces new risks, including North Korea’s dangerous development of nuclear weapons. It is critical that two countries as like-minded as ours work together to identify and address existing and emerging threats to regional security.

There is scope for our security relationship to become deeper and more sophisticated as the security challenges become more complex and less contained, including greater interoperability between the Australian Defence Force and the Japan Self-Defence Forces.

And together we look forward to working closely with the new US administration, including through the trilateral strategic dialogue framework. For both Australia and Japan, the US remains a cornerstone of our strategic and security arrangements.

Japan has been a bedrock economic partner and is our second largest export destination, trading partner and source of direct investment. Both countries have benefited enormously from opening our doors to the global economy, allowing us to exploit those areas in which we specialise.

It is true that uneven growth, combined with rapid change, can create a platform for divisive ­voices that aim to play on our anxieties and generate fear. It is imperative we resist those voices urging us to close ourselves off from the world because protectionism is a path to poverty. Turning our backs on international trade and investment would block our businesses from world markets and raise the cost of goods and services for our people.

Instead of retreating, we will continue to break down persistent barriers to entering new markets and establish new trade-facilitating rules for the 21st century. That’s why Australia and Japan are committed to the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

We have seen the benefits that flow from export agreements. This month we mark the second anniversary of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement. More than 97 per cent of imports from Australia now enter Japan duty-free or under preferential tariff rates. And with another round of cuts to come on April 1, JAEPA is further strengthening the longstanding commercial bonds between our nations. This level of access to Japanese markets would have been unthinkable a relatively short time ago.

Japanese consumers enjoy Australian beef, cheese and vegetables; our professionals ply their trades across the region; and our businesses are increasingly embedded in regional supply chains.

And our two countries have embraced innovation, recognising the critical role it plays in driving prosperity and improving living standards. Innovation is an area of natural partnership for Australia and Japan, which has long been a global leader in developing new technology. I saw this first-hand when I visited Japan 12 months ago and discussed withAbe the enormous opportunities for our countries to strengthen ties in the areas of science, innovation and research collaboration.

We have worked hard to forge deep links between our economies. But we cannot become complacent. To continue to attract Japanese business, Australia must provide a clear, consistent and welcoming investment framework. For example, we need to ensure our tax system encourages businesses to invest and create jobs, ensuring that we remain globally competitive.

Abe and I will continue to articulate a clear path forward: advance our ambition for more open trade and investment, ensure the benefits of an open global trading environment are fairly distributed; and create a level playing field for all citizens.

Australia and Japan stand together as advocates of open trade, growth that supports inclusive economic opportunity for all, and as strong partners in securing stability and prosperity for our region.