Japan, Australia Seek Closer Ties Despite Whaling Discord


DECEMBER 19, 2015

Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull agreed on Friday to drive their security cooperation further, despite Australia's "deep disappointment" in Japan's restart of whaling activities.

Japan's whaling fleet set out for the Antarctic this month to resume a hunt for the mammals, ending a year-long hiatus following an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that Japan should stop.

The resumption prompted criticism from Australia as well as Tokyo's ally, the United States.

"I am glad we have shared understanding that cooperation between Japan and Australia is a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and that we have agreed to speed up our cooperation in the security field," Abe said.

Abe made the comment in a joint news conference that followed their summit meeting.

Abe and Turnbull aim to reach an agreement that would facilitate their militaries' joint operations and exercises as soon as possible, the joint statement issued after the summit meeting said.

Turnbull told the same news conference that he had expressed Australia's "very deep disappointment with Japan's resumption of whaling," to Abe, but added their friendly ties make it all the more important to address disagreement candidly.

"We are very good friends. What good friends do when they have differences? They lay them out openly and honestly, and in that way, perhaps overtime, we'll be able to resolve them," he said.

Turnbull, who faced domestic opposition pressure to speak out on whaling, said earlier on the day the row should not be allowed "to erode the good will and the rest of the relationship".

In the summit meeting with Abe, Turnbull welcomed Japan's bid to win a contract to build a new fleet of Australian submarines and said the decision will be made by the middle of next year, a Japanese official told reporters.

A state-backed Japanese consortium led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries is competing with Germany's Thyssenkrupp and French state-controlled naval contractor DCNS.

Turnbull was on his first visit to Japan since replacing Tony Abbott, who had developed tight ties with Abe, in September.

He faces a balancing act between Australia's largest trading partner China and its oldest regional ally and second-largest trading partner, Japan, with which it has been bolstering strategic relations.

In the joint statement, Abe and Turnbull expressed strong opposition, without naming countries, to any coercive or unilateral actions that could altar the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea. Beijing's reclamation work and building of airfields on artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago have sparked regional tension.

For its part, Japan has been mired in a territorial spat with China over a group of tiny, uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.