Prime Minister Tony Abbott has urged the international community to give Japan a “fair go” as it seeks to take on a broader military role and expand its economy.
Signing agreements to boost trade and defence ties, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday became the first leader of his country to address the Australian Parliament.
The Canberra visit came a week after Mr Abe announced a reinterpretation of his nation’s pacifist constitution to allow Japanese armed forces to come to the aid of friendly nations under attack.
Previously the constitution only allowed armed forces to act in Japan’s self-defence.
It’s feared Japan’s decision could inflame tensions with China and South Korea, which have competing claims for territories and resources in the East China Sea.
But Mr Abbott stood up for Japan, saying it had been an “exemplary international citizen” since the end of World War II.
“Give Japan a fair go,” Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abe told parliament – in only his third official speech in English since becoming prime minister – that a deal to transfer defence equipment and technology would only be the first part in “engraving the special relationship”.
The relationship would also involve Australia and Japan “joining hands with the United States, an ally for both our nations”, as well as boosting joint defence operations and training.
“We want to make Japan a country that will work to build an international order that upholds the role of law … to make the vast seas from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian, and those skies, open and free.”
While not directly referring to China’s concerns, Mr Abbott told the parliament that Australia’s renewed ties with Japan was “not a partnership against anyone”.
“It is a partnership for peace, for prosperity and for the rule of law.”
Mr Abe told reporters later that Japan’s door was open to China, but its near neighbour should not “unilaterally alter the status quo”.
Mr Abe and Mr Abbott signed the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, which is expected to enable more than 97 per cent of Australian exports to enter Japan duty free or with preferential access.
Australian consumers will benefit from cheaper imported cars and electronics.
The Japanese leader gave his strongest hint yet that his country would resume “scientific” whaling despite an international court decision against it.
Mr Abbott said the two nations would “agree to disagree” on whaling.
Mr Abe, whose country will host the 2020 Olympics, paid tribute to former Olympian Dawn Fraser who was in the parliament’s public gallery for his speech.
“To me, you are Australia,” he said.
The charismatic leader also singled out from the gallery, Rob McNeil, who led a rescue team in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami disaster.
The Japanese leader opened his speech pledging his country would never again follow the path of aggression.
“We will never let the horrors of the past century’s history repeat themselves,” he said.
Mr Abe paid tribute to the fathers and grandfathers who fought in places like Kokoda and Sandakan.
The two leaders will visit the Pilbara region of Western Australia on Wednesday.