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Japan and Australia PMs to focus on closer military ties

CANBERRA (AP):  Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he will discuss with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida strengthening their bilateral defense and security partnership to counter a more assertive China when the leaders meet in Australia this week.

Kishida will make the first visit to Australia by a Japanese prime minister since Shinzo Abe in 2018 when he arrives Friday in the west coast city of Perth, officials said.

"Prime Minister Kishida and I will discuss ways to strengthen our cooperation and achieve our shared vision for a peaceful, stable, climate resilient and prosperous Indo Pacific, Albanese said in a statement.

Kishida and Albanese will consider further implementing the Reciprocal Access Agreement, a security cooperation pact Kishida struck in January with then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that removes obstacles to holding joint military exercises in either country.

Discussions between leaders will look to strengthen the defense and security partnership, and leaders will consider next steps to implement the Reciprocal Access Agreement, which will enhance the ability of defense forces to operate and exercise together, Albanese's office said in a statement.

The leaders were planning a new declaration on security cooperation that would revamp a document signed in 2007, Kyodo News reported this week.

Signed by then-Prime Ministers Abe and John Howard, the pact committed the countries to regional and global peace and stability as well as cooperation on counterterrorism and rebuilding Iraq after the 2003 Iraq War.

The new agreement would be more ambitious than the 2007 version, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Japanese Ambassador to Australia Shingo Yamagami described the new agreement, which would also strengthen intelligence sharing, as epoch making and would shape relations between the two nations for the next decade, The Australian newspaper reported. Yamagami did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kishida would visit Perth from Friday to Sunday with the leaders' annual meeting on Saturday, Japanese and Australian officials said.

Through Prime Minister Kishida's visit to Australia, we aim to further develop the cooperative relationship between the two countries in the areas of security, defense and economy, and to further strengthen cooperation toward the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said in Tokyo.

Perth is the capital of Western Australia state, which exports most of Australia's liquified natural gas. Energy cooperation will be high on the leaders' agenda with Japan depending on Australia for more than a third of its LNG and with global supplies disrupted by the Ukraine war, Kyodo reported.

The leaders were expected to agree on cooperation in securing stable supplies of Australian LNG, rare earths and other resources, The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Tokyo reported.

Western Australia played an important role supporting Japan's energy security and will be vital to both countries' plans for clean energy transition," Albanese's office said.

Concerns about China's growing influence in the region heightened early this year when Beijing signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands that has raised fears of a Chinese naval base being established in the South Pacific.

Albanese highlighted the importance Australia places on its relationship with Japan when he flew to Tokyo within hours of being sworn in as prime minister following May elections.

The occasion was a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad, which brought Albanese and Kishida together with US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Albanese returned to Japan last month for Abe's state funeral, bringing with him three former Australian prime ministers including Howard in an extraordinary show of Australia's respect.

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