China has used a jingoistic state media outlet to slam a historic defence deal between Australia and Japan, saying it is “inevitable” it will take some sort of countermeasures.
The defence pact, called the Reciprocal Access Agreement, was agreed to ‘”in principle” during Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s state visit to Japan, but still has not been formally signed.
The agreement would pave the way for the Australian and Japanese militaries to have access to each other’s bases, and would deepen cooperation between the two countries.
However, it still faces fine-tuning over whether Australians could be subjected to Japan’s death penalty.
China’s government has not formally responded to the agreement, but has used a nationalistic unofficial media outlet to say Japan and Australian were setting “a bad example by interpreting their biggest trading partner, China, as a ‘security threat’ acting at the behest of the US”.
The editorial in the Global Times was published only in English, for a foreign audience, and framed the two countries as pawns of the US.
“China is unlikely to remain indifferent to US moves aimed at inciting countries to gang up against China in the long run,” it read.
“It’s inevitable that China will take some sort of countermeasures.
“Countries like Japan and Australia have been used as US tools. The strategic risk for a tool to be damaged is certainly higher than that of a user.”
Some other state media outlets framed the agreement as a historical contradiction, pointing out that Japan is the only country that has ever bombed Australia.
“You could describe the deal as a paramilitary agreement,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
“Although it’s not a promise to aide the other country if under attack, it is however a deal to place one’s own military in the other country for joint exercises.
“This is a very important step in establishing an Indo-Pacific Alliance against China.”
Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham insisted the defence pact would not have any bearing on Australia’s souring relationship with China, which has resulted in Beijing putting unofficial trade bans or restrictions on around $6 billion of Australia’s annual exports.
“This will have no bearing in that regard. Japan and Australia are nations that share common values, share a commitment to democratic principles, and it’s little surprise we would want to work cooperatively,” he said.
China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan has, for more than six months, refused to speak to Senator Birmingham about China’s trade strikes on Australian exports, but previously publicly linked them to Australia launching or joining multiple World Trade Organisation anti-dumping cases against various Chinese exports.
In recent weeks Beijing has made it increasingly clear it expects Australia to make diplomatic overtures to heal the relationship.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated on Tuesday that China bore “absolutely no responsibility” for the worsening ties.
In an answer to a question asked by China’s government media, spokesman Zhao Lijian identified Australia’s public comments on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan as problems, along with anti-interference laws being used to “slander” China.
He also listed Australia’s blocking of Huawei for the 5G network and various Chinese investments on “national security” grounds as examples of Australia damaging the relationship.
He additionally noted Australia had joined the call for an independent investigation of the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in and spread from Wuhan.
Concerns over death penalty
With the text of the defence pact yet to be publicly released, the Law Council has raised concerns it would potentially expose Australians to the death penalty in Japan.
During negotiations over the past six years, a major sticking point had been ensuring Australian troops who commit a serious crime in Japan would not face the death penalty.
The issue of foreign troops committing crimes is politically sensitive in Japan due to high profile cases of murder, rape, assault and other offences committed by American forces stationed in Okinawa since the end of World War II.
“We would be seeking assurances that the agreement does properly protect Australian troops from the death penalty should something occur while they’re in Japanese territory”, said Law Council President Pauline Wright.