It would be "foolish" for Australia to let itself to be drawn into any kind of strategic alignment with Japan that would be directed against China, warned Hugh White, a renowned Australian strategist.
In a recent interview with Xinhua, White, a professor at Australian National University who had worked as deputy secretary for strategy and Intelligence of the Department of Defense from 1995 to 2000, said despite a long-time close and friendly relationship with Japan, Australia needs to be careful not to be part of any coalition with Japan that would be against China.
"It's perfectly reasonable for Japan to take steps to ensure its security, but I don't think Australia should allow itself to be drawn into a close strategic alignment with Japan which would be directed against China. Under the current circumstance, that's what a strategic alignment with Japan would inevitably mean."
In a statement Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) welcomed Japanese cabinet's resolution on July 1 to allow Japan move closer to collective self-defense by reinterpreting its pacifist constitution. The government also welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's three-day visit to Australia starting Monday.
Abe will address a joint sitting of Australian Houses of Parliament on July 8 and the two countries are expected to sign the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, a free trade deal.
White said it is natural for the Australian government to understand Japan's desire for security. However, Australia is so keen to see a close defense relationship with Japan and so warm in welcoming its new expanded defense posture probably because Canberra does not understand that Tokyo's interest in a close relationship with Australia and its expansion of defense posture is directly against China.
"If we ask why Japan wants a strategic alliance with Australia, which it clearly does, I think by far the most credible explanation is that it wants to seek Australian support and build the alliance with Australia and other regional countries against China," White said.
"I don't think that's a good model for Asia's future, I don't think it serves Australia's interest specifically."
Australia enjoys robust trade relations with both China and Japan, which are Australia's No. 1 and No. 2 trading partner respectively.
White said Japan's moves towards collective self-defense indicated that it wants to cling more tightly to the United States, which may not work as Japan wishes.
"When Japan moves towards collective self-defense, the idea is that would allow Japan to support the U.S. in Asia better, which will make the Japanese more confident that the U.S. will support them. So it's a way to make the alliance closer and tighter."
"But I think that's probably not gonna work. I don't think Japan can increase America's willingness to support Japan if Japan has a confrontation with China by undertaking collective self- defense measures like that. I don't think it changes the basic strategic calculation for America enough to have that effect."
He also warned that there might be strategic risk for Australia to rely its submarine technology and capability on Japan.
"Submarine technology and submarine capability are extremely important to Australia strategically, and obviously they are very sensitive strategically. I think it would be a very big and significant step for Australia to put itself in a position of depending for its submarine capability on a country like Japan, with whom its strategic interests might not always converge."
He said Asia is undergoing fast and radical changes and the nature of Japan's strategic posture and situation might change in very unpredictable ways.
"I don't think we can today assume that Australia's strategic interests are always going to be as in closely alliance with Japan 's as they have been in the past."
During the 2+2 meeting of foreign ministers and defense ministers of Japan and Australia last month, the two countries reached an agreement to enhance cooperation in defense equipment and technology. There are speculations that Australia might purchase submarine technology or even submarines from Japan.
White said if Australia chooses to source submarine capability from European countries, the strategic risk will be much lower than sourcing it from Japan.