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Australia and Japan to confirm new partnership in space capabilities

Stephen Kuper

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, have announced a partnership between the two national space agencies, promoting greater co-operation in space science, research and education.

Australia and Japan to confirm new partnership in space capabilities
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As Australia's closest and 'most mature' partnership in the region, the Australia-Japan partnership has undergone several evolutions throughout its life since it was established in a formalised Commerce Agreement in 1957.

The latest of which comes as the post-Second World War economic, political and strategic order appears to be in tatters, beset on all sides by great power rivals, the impact of COVID-19 and broader global trends each serving to impact the security and sovereignty of both nations. 

While there are a number of marked differences between the two, both Australia and Japan share similar realities, island nations, dependent upon the benevolence of the global order, free, unencumbered access to the maritime commons and robust, collaborative alliances and partnerships. 

Despite its relative isolation, Australia's position as a global trading nation, entrenched in the maintenance and expansion of the post-Second World War order has left the nation at a unique and troubling cross roads, particularly as its two largest and most influential “great and powerful” friends, the US and the UK, appear to be floundering against the tide of history. 

Nowhere is this more evident than across the Indo-Pacific as an emboldened Beijing continues to punish Australia for pursuing a global inquiry into the origins and China's handling of COVID-19, while also leveraging the comparatively diminished presence of the US military in the region to project power and intimidate both Japan and Taiwan. 

In response, Japan has closely followed the modernisation of the Chinese armed forces and raised concerns about the nation’s defence capabilities. The Japanese government has responded with an unprecedented defence budget, which provides opportunities for Australian industry.

The pre-war power has long sought to shake off the chains of the pacifist constitution enforced upon it by the US, UK, Australia and other allies following the end of the war in the Pacific.

As a result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison in collaboration with his Japanese counterpart, Abe Shinzo, has sought to bring the already strong relationship between the two nations closer together, with the Prime Minister's official statement saying:

"The meeting will build on and reaffirm the importance of our Special Strategic Partnership in a time of global economic and strategic uncertainty. The meeting presents a timely opportunity to reaffirm the shared principles, values and global outlook that reinforce one of Australia’s closest regional partnerships."

Expanding on this, Prime Minister Morrison said, "Prime Minister Abe and I will discuss our shared experiences in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and ways we can work together, with other regional partners, to help ensure an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific. 

"We will discuss ways to co-ordinate our assistance in the Pacific and south-east Asia to strengthen health systems, and promote economic resilience and recovery. I also look forward to discussing with Prime Minister Abe opportunities to further deepen our defence and security ties."

Space has emerged as the next battleground for great powers and their allies seeking to maximise their technological, economic and political advantages, accordingly, both Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Abe have announced an expansion of the close relationship between the two nations' respective research and development ecosystems and the space agencies. 

"The leaders recognised that accelerated digital transformation and ICT innovation in response to COVID-19 should maximise the benefits of the evolving digital economy. In this regard, the leaders committed to continue promoting international discussions under the Osaka Track, to further elaborate 'Data Free Flow with Trust', and lead international rule-making under the Joint Statement Initiative on Electronic Commerce at the WTO," the joint statement said.

"The leaders also welcomed increasing co-operation between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Australian Space Agency, including the signing of the memorandum of co-operation to further promote space co-operation. The leaders also highlighted the Hayabusa-2 capsule recovery in South Australia planned for the end of this year."

This is expanded to include enhancing the economic partnership between the two nations, particularly in the high technology domain and to guarantee critical supplies of raw materials essential to continued cyber security, telecommunications innovation, space exploration, broader research and development. 

"The leaders acknowledged that Japan and Australia’s mutual economic security and prosperity depends on secure and reliable supply chains for critical goods and services. In this context, they emphasised the need to strengthen bilateral cooperation on cyber security, critical technology and energy and natural resources sectors, to ensure secure and resilient critical infrastructure and systems of national significance. Critical minerals and communications such as 5G involving companies from Japan and Australia were a particular focus," the statement said.

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