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Japan stands by Australia in its battle against China

Japan has thrown its support behind Australia to slam Chinese ‘economic coercion’ and ‘destabilising’ actions in the Indo-Pacific amid fears the region is on the brink of war.

Foreign and defence ministers from the two allied countries held online talks to strengthen their security ties on Wednesday in the face of an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Australia’s relationship with China – by far its largest trading partner – has rapidly deteriorated since the Morrison government called for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus last year, with Beijing blocking several key Aussie exports including coal, barley, beef, seafood and wine. 

Japan has thrown its support behind Australia to slam Chinese ‘economic coercion’ and ‘destabilising’ actions in the Indo-Pacific. Pictured: Chinese sailors during a visit to Sydney in June 2019

Meanwhile, Japan is locked in an ongoing dispute with Beijing over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls Diaoyu. 

Japan says Chinese vessels routinely violate its territorial waters around the islands, sometimes threatening fishing boats. 

In a joint statement, the ministers pledged their commitment to a ‘free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific where disputes are resolved peacefully, without the threat or use of force.’

They also committed to ‘opposing coercion and destabilising behaviour by economic means, which undermines the rules-based international system’.

The politicians expressed ‘serious concerns’ about reported human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang in China’s west and the undermining of democracy in Hong Kong.

The statement called on China ‘to grant urgent, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent international observers including the UN high commissioner for human rights.’ 

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, second right, and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, right, attend a video conference with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, left on screen, and Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton, right on screen

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, second right, and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, right, attend a video conference with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, left on screen, and Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton, right on screen

China has been accused of locking up thousands of innocent Muslims in a ‘genocide’ against the minority group – but Beijing claims they are being taken to ‘re-education’ camps to stamp out the threat of terrorism.

Unverified drone footage in 2019 showed blindfolded Muslim detainees being led from trains with their heads shaven, eyes covered and hands bound. Beijing said it was a ‘normal’ transfer of prisoners. 

After the talks, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters the allies viewed China’s activity in the East and South China Seas as a challenge to the international community. 

China claims about 90 per cent of the South China Sea, ignoring a ruling by an international arbitration tribunal in 2016 which invalidated its claim.

Beijing passed legislation in January allowing its coastguard to use ‘all necessary means’ to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels, including demolishing other countries’ structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs.

The law permits coastguard to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters China considers its own.

Three Chinese Navy ships made a four-day visit to Sydney in June 2019 with Scott Morrison saying it was reciprocal after Australian naval vessels visited China. Since then relations have soured

Three Chinese Navy ships made a four-day visit to Sydney in June 2019 with Scott Morrison saying it was reciprocal after Australian naval vessels visited China. Since then relations have soured

‘We express our objections to China’s maritime claims and activities that are inconsistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),’ the Australian-Japanese joint statement said.

The officials expressed ‘serious concerns about the recent negative developments and serious incidents in the South China Sea, including continuing militarization of disputed features, dangerous use of coast guard vessels and ”maritime militia”, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resources exploitation activities.

‘In this context, we reiterate our concerns over China’s Coast Guard Law in the context of the South China Sea,’ the statement said.

The meeting also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, where China has recently stepped up a campaign of pressure by flying fighter jets near the self-ruled island.

China responded that it is determined to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests.

‘China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their nearby waters, and over the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets,’ Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing.

‘Issues related to Xinjiang and Hong Kong are China´s internal affairs that no foreign country should intervene. China firmly rejects Japan and Australia´s efforts to smear China and interfere in China´s internal affairs,’ Wang said.

Japan and Australia are in the final stages of a defense cooperation deal that will allow the Japanese Self-Defense Force to protect Australian military assets in Japan’s second defence treaty outside of its alliance with the United States. 

Beijing has slapped huge tariffs on Australian barley (pictured) in a move that Canberra believes is 'economic coercion'

Beijing has slapped huge tariffs on Australian barley (pictured) in a move that Canberra believes is ‘economic coercion’

It comes after Scott Morrison said the risk of war with China in the Indo-Pacific region is growing and the world is facing uncertainty not seen since the 1930s as he rallied Australia’s allies to take action against the threat posed by Beijing.

In a major foreign policy speech in Perth ahead of his trip to the G7 summit in the UK on Friday, Mr Morrison outlined how Australia can work with international partners to counter communist China and make the world safe for liberal democracies to flourish in.

Mr Morrison warned that China’s growing might and strategic competition with the US, combined with the economic damage and instability caused by the pandemic, means the Indo-Pacific region is facing the real prospect of war.

‘The risks of miscalculation and conflict are growing,’ he said in his speech. 

‘The simple reality is that Australia’s strategic environment has changed significantly over recent years. 

‘Accelerating trends are working against our interests. And the technological edge enjoyed historically by Australia and our allies is under challenge.’

Since president Xi Jinping came to power, and particularly in recent months, China has pushed an increasingly assertive foreign policy under which it has reinforced territorial claims in the South China Sea, killed Indian troops in the Himalayas and frequently flown fighter jets over Taiwan.  

In one of his first speeches after moving into the White House, President Biden – who is one of Australia’s most important allies – described China as ‘our most serious competitor’ and vowed to ‘confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive action and push back on China’s attack on human rights’.  

Scott Morrison is attending the G7 summit this weekend as a guest of Boris Johnson. The pair are pictured together at the 2019 G7 summit in France

Scott Morrison is attending the G7 summit this weekend as a guest of Boris Johnson. The pair are pictured together at the 2019 G7 summit in France

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