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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has used a historic address to the Australian Parliament to move the two countries closer to a strategic defence alliance in a development certain to anger Beijing.
''There are many things Japan and Australia can do together by each of us joining hands with the United States, an ally for both our nations'': Shinzo Abe. Photo: Bloomberg
Declaring a new Japanese ''determination'' to behave as a normal nation in the international sphere following a period of being ''self-absorbed'' on security matters, the hawkish Prime Minister stopped short of directly criticising Chinese territorial expansion.
But his speech left little doubt as to Tokyo's new activist defence posture - ditching its postwar pacifist stance - and its related desire for closer strategic co-ordination with Australia and the US.
That will no doubt fuel suspicions in Beijing that western powers are pursuing a containment strategy regarding China.
''There are many things Japan and Australia can do together by each of us joining hands with the United States, an ally for both our nations,'' he told the special joint sitting of Parliament.
''Japan is now working to change its legal basis for security so that we can act jointly with other countries in as many ways as possible.''
In a subsequent press conference after the two leaders signed a new Economic Partnership Agreement, Mr Abe went further, however, describing the Tokyo-Beijing relationship as ''one of the most important bilateral relationships'' but then blaming China for a deterioration.
''The door for dialogue is always open from the Japanese side, so I do sincerely hope that the Chinese side will also take the same posture,'' he said.
''The fundamental position of Japan that we are keen to improve our relationship with China has been fully explained to Tony, the Prime Minister, but, however, we also discussed … China's attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo.
''China along with Japan and Australia should play a greater role for peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region.''
He added that it was important that China ''share and accept international norms and play a concerted role in the region - that is what I am hoping China will do''.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised Japan as an ''exemplary'' and ''model'' international citizen since 1945, despite Mr Abe heralding the resumption of whaling.
Mr Abe said the recent decision by the International Court of Justice had envisaged ''scientific'' programs and revealed Japan would resume the practice in order to collect the ''indispensable scientific information in order to manage the whale resources''.
Mr Abe's comments regarding the rule of law were transparently aimed at Chinese moves in the South and East China seas where it has simmering disputes with neighbours including Vietnam and the Philippines raising fears for the future security of sea lanes.
''I believe strongly that when Japan and Australia, sharing the common values, join hands, these natural rules will become the norm for the seas of prosperity that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian,'' he said.
Relations between China and Japan are at a dangerously low point, and Beijing views the Australian visit as part of Japan's plan to rally its neighbours to counter China's rise.
''In everything we say and do, we must follow the law and never fall back into force and coercion,'' Mr Abe said. ''When there are disputes, we must always use peaceful means to find solutions.''
China last week hit out at Mr Abe after his cabinet endorsed a reinterpretation of a constitutional clause banning the used of armed force, except in narrowly-defined circumstances.
This diplomatic juggling act was underlined as Mr Abbott sought to reassure Beijing that the strengthening of ties with Tokyo was ''not a partnership against anyone''.
The two leaders signed a defence research agreement that could pave the way for Japan sharing with Australia its widely admired submarine technology as Australia prepares to shop for a successor to the ageing Collins class.
Defence Minister David Johnston said Australia wanted to strengthen the three-way defence co-operation between Australia, Japan and the US based on their ''common set of democratic values and similar strategic perspectives'' - another emphasis likely to irritate Beijing.