Australia and Japan have struck a deal to jointly fund infrastructure projects in the Pacific during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s historic visit to Darwin and at a time of tensions over China’s influence in the region.
Mr Abe and Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a memorandum of understanding to support bilateral infrastructure financing in the Indo-Pacific after their meeting in Darwin on Friday.
It is the first visit by a Japanese Prime Minister to the city, which was bombed by the Japanese army during World War II.
A statement by the two leaders mentioned Australia, the United States and Japan’s recent MoU to support trilateral co-operation in the Indo-Pacific, which has been seen as challenging China’s influence including through its One Belt, One Road economic initiative.
“This will greatly assist furthering our investment and infrastructure support within the southwest Pacific,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
“We are working together to support better infrastructure and greater connectivity between independent sovereign states throughout our region, throughout the Indo-Pacific.
Australia and Japan stood for democracy and against protectionism, he said.
“We both have a similar outlook when it comes to managing our relationships with two important partners (China and the US).
“In getting together and talking about many tense issues that exist in managing both those relationships and I think it’s a very positive way of taking our relationships forward.”
China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said this week the Pacific was “not any country’s sphere of influence” and Australia and its allies had a Cold War mentality.
A statement of intent was also signed between Australia and Japan to boost maritime security in combating crime.
The leaders also said they had agreed to increase defence co-operation but made no specific announcements about expanding on the joint exercises already held.
“We had discussions on the agreement to further facilitate such activities and welcomed the tremendous progress made to date in the negotiations and agree to aim for conclusion early next year,” Mr Abe said.
After laying wreaths with Mr Morrison at the Darwin Cenotaph to honour those killed in the 1942 bombings, Mr Abe will on Saturday inspect a memorial of the 80-crew Japanese submarine I-124, which was sunk off Darwin in January the same year and remains there.