Press Conference, Tokyo, Japan

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

Release content

15 June 2022


Let me start by firstly thanking the Japanese Government who have been so generous in the way in which they have been hosting me here for the last couple of days. We often talk about the fact that Australia is facing the most complex set of strategic circumstances that we have since the end of the Second World War. That statement is also true for Japan.

Japan and Australia, now, share a deep strategic bind.

We also share values. We’re both democracies. We both value the rule of law. And we’re both committed to upholding and protecting a global rules-based order.

But perhaps most importantly of all, Japan and Australia today are deep friends. This is a relationship which is genuinely underpinned by affection. And it’s for that reason that I’m really pleased to be here as my first bilateral visit as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence.

Our relationship with Japan is front and centre in terms of our national interests. I was very pleased in Singapore to be able to have a bilateral meeting with Minister Kishi there and Minister Kishi and I together with US Secretary of Defense Austin participated in a trilateral meeting. And today, we’ve had a Defence Ministers’ meeting of real substance here in Tokyo, which takes our relationship forward again.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, what was at the heart of the Australian-Japanese relationship was essentially commerce – that’s still there but in the last decade what’s become clear is that the building of our defence and security relationship is very much now at the heart of the work that we are doing together.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement, which was entered into between Australia and Japan earlier this year, is a ground-breaking agreement for our two countries. It’s one which the new Albanese Government completely supports. It does open the door for a whole lot of engagement and opportunity between Japan and Australia that we’ve not had before. Much greater engagement in terms of joint activities, much greater engagement in terms of interoperability – and today’s meeting between Minister Kishi and I really sought to put the meat on the bones on that. To put forward a substantive agenda, an ambitious agenda, around how we can use the Reciprocal Access Agreement to transform our relationship and take it to the next level, and that’s what we’re doing.

We also talked today about greater cooperation between Australia and Japan in the Pacific. The Pacific is obviously a part of the world which is deeply critical for Australia.

But it’s also a part of the world where Japan has had a long engagement. And I’ve seen that first hand in the work I’ve done in the Pacific island countries. Japan’s reputation amongst Pacific island countries for the provision of infrastructure is unsurpassed. They do a wonderful job. Today they talked about doing more port visits to countries in the Pacific including Solomon Islands – so that’s a really important initiative that we welcome. And earlier this year Australia and Japan worked together in terms of the provision of assistance to Tonga after the tsunami.

The joint operations that we are seeing, going forward, between Japan and Australia, present real opportunities for our nation. Last month we saw people from the Japanese Self Defense Forces participate in Exercise Southern Jackaroo. In August we will see for the first time Japan send aircraft to participate in Exercise Pitch Black. Both of those are emblematic of the kind of activity that we can both engage in going forward.

From the perspective of Australia we obviously see Japan as really important to our strategic future – but what’s been so gratifying about this visit is that that feeling is reciprocated. It’s very clear that from the perspective of Japan they see their relationship with us, in Australia, as being one of the highest order. That presents such an enormous opportunity for us to take the relationship forward, we’re very pleased to be able to take the steps in doing that today.


Deputy Prime Minister, with the Reciprocal Access Agreement, are we likely to see troops based here from Australia, or vice versa, in any kind of permanent or semi-permanent structure?


Well, what the agreement provides is that it allows our defence forces to operate in each other’s countries. And I think what we will see is more of that, that we take this a step at a time – I’ve just mentioned those two exercises. But we’re looking at ways in which we can allow greater exercises, and particularly Japan to avail itself of the fantastic facilities that we have in Australia, our training ranges which are a function of our geography and our size.

It’s not just about allowing Japan to do their own exercises in those training ranges, albeit that’s very important for Japan, but it’s the opportunity to work with Japan, so that we are engaging in the full spectrum of cooperation, of interoperability, so that we are really working together at the highest end. We want to see a whole lot more of that. And that involves working with those in the JSDF both in Australia and Japan.


Deputy Prime Minister, given Japan’s defence policies are also shifting – it’s looking at strike capability, increasing its defence spending – is it time to consider formalising this alliance with Japan moving beyond the quasi-alliance into something more formal?


Well, we seek to build the relationship. The Reciprocal Access Agreement is a start. We’ve had a joint declaration on security partnership for a long time now. I think the next step is to see how we can update that and give a new expression to that. We want to take the relationship with Japan forward. We want to be working together as closely as we can with Japan – we particularly want to be doing that in connection with the United States as well. It is really clear that when times are tough, friends come to the fore, and today, Japan and Australia are the very best of friends.


And Japan is looking to double its expenditure on defence. Is there anything that Australia has that we can provide that they’ve asked for, or that we may be willing to offer when they boost their expenditure?


Well, I think the opportunity to work together with Australia is one which Japan is very keen to take up. As I’ve mentioned before there’s a whole lot of opportunities in terms of the ranges which we have in Australia, the opportunity to exercise in broad areas which simply doesn’t exist here in Japan, which is enormously attractive to Japan.

But we also want to work with Japan in areas of technology sharing, we want to work with Japan in terms of developing advanced capabilities – obviously I can’t go into the details of that – but that is exactly the kind of conversations we were having today about putting the meat on the bones of the Reciprocal Access Agreement.


In terms of coordination in the Pacific, can you go into any more detail there? For example, particularly in terms of infrastructure, would Australia and Japan look at joint venturing on major infrastructure projects?


I think partnering with Japan is fundamentally a good idea. The more we do that, the better. That’s not a new thing to say. When I was involved in representing Australia in the Pacific we were thinking about ways in which we could partner with Japan then.

But I think the opportunity of working together in the Pacific has been put into sharp relief. When we combine resources, we can do so much more. And Japan acknowledges Australia’s proximity to the Pacific. The fact that the Pacific is an area where we seek to lead in the context of other countries’ engagement in the Pacific. We talk in terms of earning the right what we seek to do, being a natural partner of choice for the countries in the Pacific, and Japan supports that, and welcomes that.

But there are things that Japan can do in the Pacific which greatly add to our joint capability, and one of those is infrastructure. There are fantastic infrastructure projects today that have been delivered by Japan in the Pacific which bring great reputation for Japan in the Pacific, and that’s something we need to be building.


Deputy Prime Minister, China’s President Xi Jinping has signed off on trial outcomes that will allow their forces to conduct “armed forces operations” outside of China but not in a warlike setting. What do you take that to mean? It’s rather vaguely phrased, and is that a concern?


Our national interest lies in the assertion of the global rules-based order. Our national interest lies in asserting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight in international waters in places like the South China Sea.

We are seeing China seek to shape the world around it in a way that it has not done before. And what that means for Australia, asserting the global rules-based order, asserting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in areas like the South China Sea, is even more important. And obviously that is why we have engaged in activities, over decades now, to assert the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and we will continue to do so.


In your discussions with General Wei last week, did the topic of the trade sanctions against Australia come up? As you know, Mr Albanese said yesterday this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The signals coming out of China suggest they’re not interested in dropping those sanctions now. Did that come up in your conversation?


I want to honour the way in which the conversation occurred. We have put certain facts of the conversation into the public domain, as I’ve said we raised the incident that occurred on the 26th of May, we raised the question of the security agreement that China’s entered into with Solomon Islands. We had other discussions as well, which I won’t go into.

I think the important point to make is that the meeting with Minister Wei began, and more importantly ended, with a desire on the part of both of us to try and put the bilateral relationship into a better place. Not just in terms of the area of defence, but generally. That was a clear desire that was expressed by both Minister Wei and myself in the meeting. And it was a first step, it was only the first step, and there is a long way to go, but that was the sentiment that was expressed in the meeting about the broader bilateral relationship.


The Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong is making a trip to the Solomon Islands. What assurances is the Australian Government seeking?


Well I met with the Minister for National Security in Singapore from Solomon Islands, Minister Veke. In that meeting it was made clear that Solomon Islands do not intend to have any military base established in Solomon Islands. We welcomed that statement. It’s important to hear that from Solomon Islands, and no doubt Minister Penny Wong will reiterate that conversation when she visits Solomon Islands.

I also made clear that we want to work closely with Solomon Islands, as we have in the past, as we have right now where there are Australian Police who are providing support and assistance to Solomon Islands. And that’s part of an enduring relationship that we have had and we mean to continue to have with Solomon Islands.

And there is a message that we want to give to Solomon Islands, is that we intend to make the Pacific an absolute focus of our foreign policy, of our world view, and we want to revitalise our relationships in the Pacific. We are going to do the work. And that’s been evidenced by the fact that Penny Wong was sworn in as Foreign Minister on Monday, she was in the Pacific on Thursday, she’s visiting Solomon Islands within a matter of weeks in coming into her office. That says everything about the priority we are placing of the Pacific and of Solomon Islands.

Before I wrap up, I will be later next week representing Australia at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda. Prior to that I will also be involved in further engagements with other countries in the region.



Other related releases