Prime Minister Abe talks up Japan-Australia ‘special relationship’

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressing a special joint sitting of the Australian parliament. AAP/Lukas Coch

The new “special relationship” between Japan and Australia comes to life today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has told a joint sitting of federal Parliament.

In an address also expressing “sincere condolences” for the Australians killed in World War Two while fighting Japanese forces, Abe said Japan was determined to do more to enhance peace and “it is to put that determination into concrete action” that it had chosen to strengthen its ties with Australia.

“There are many things Japan and Australia can do together by each of us joining hands with the United States, an ally of both our nations,” he said.

“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.”

Japan and Australia “will finally use our relationship of trust, which has stood up through the trials of history, in our cooperation in the area of security”, he said.

“Let us join together all the more in order to make the vast seas from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian and those skies open and free.”

In an apparent reference to frictions with China, Abe said that when there were disputes “we must always use peace means to find solutions”.

“There are natural rules. 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.”

Abe and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott are signing an agreement on the transfer of defence equipment and technology.

“That will make the first cut engraving the special relationship in our future history,” Abe said, who also joked that “to mark its birthday today, I should have brought a huge cake to share a piece with every one of you”.

The two are also signing a free trade agreement, the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The negotiations for it started under the Howard government.

Abe said the EPA with Australia would be a great catalyst to spark further changes in the opening up of Japan’s economy, as well as giving a great push towards the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Japan and Australia have deepened our economic ties. We will now join in a scrum, just like in rugby, to nurture a regional and world order and to safeguard peace.”

He said that opening Japan’s economy and society was a major engine for his growth strategy.

“I am now working to reform systems and norms that have not changed in many decades. Japan will grow by increasing its productivity while keeping good fiscal discipline,” he said.

“To do that, I will become like a drill bit myself, breaking through the vested interests and the norms that have deep roots.”

Reforms were being made in agriculture, energy policy and medicine for the first time in decades. Old norms in labour regulations were also starting to be reformed. He also wanted to make Japan a place where women shone.

Referring to Australian help in the wake of the 2011 tsunami, Abe paid tribute to the leadership of former prime minister Julia Gillard, who “stood motionless, with her upper lip tight, upon seeing the terrible sight of Minamisanriku”.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was commended for her response to the Japanese tsunami. EPA/Toru Hanai/POOL

He said of World War Two: “Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan.

"How many young Australians, with bright futures to come, lost their lives? And for those who made it through the war, how much trauma did they feel even years and years later, from these painful memories?

"I can find absolutely no words to say. I can only stay humble against the evils and horrors of history.

"May I most humbly speak for Japan and on behalf of the Japanese people here in sending my most sincere condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.”

In his speech, Abbott said Australia welcomed Japan’s decision to be a more capable strategic partner in our region, but also referred to China.

“Ours is not a partnership against anyone; it’s a partnership for peace, for prosperity and for the rule of law.

Our objective is engagement. We both welcome the greater trust and openness in our region that’s exemplified by China’s participation in this year’s RimPac naval exercises,” Abbott said.

He also stressed that “history teaches us that issues between nations should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law because the alternative is in no one’s best long term interests. The lesson of the last century is that the countries of our region will all advance together or none of us will advance at all”.