China warns Australia and Japan over new defence pact, pledges countermeasures – By China correspondent Bill Birtles

courtesy   By China correspondent Bill Birtles

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A Chinese and Australian flag o a conference table
China says Japan and Australia are being used as “tools” by the United States.(Reuters: Jason Lee)

China has used a jingoistic state media outlet to slam an 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.

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 in both Chinese and English for domestic and foreign audiences and framed the two countries as pawns of the United States.

“China is unlikely to remain indifferent to US moves aimed at inciting countries to gang up against China in the long run,” it read.

“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 an historical contradiction, pointing out that Japan is the only country that has ever bombed Australia.

Scott Morrison bumps elbows with Yoshihide Suga. They are smiling.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday.(ABC News: Yumi Asada)

“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.

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 Mr Birmingham about China’s series of 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 bears “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.

Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan pauses during a press conference.
Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan has refused to speak to Australia’s Trade Minister about the ongoing export issues.(AP: Andy Wong)

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.

The two countries have now resolved the issue, but it’s not clear what protections will be given to Australian Defence Force members under the pact.

When pressed on the topic by journalists, Prime Minister Scott Morrison only said Australia would meet “all of its obligations under its international agreements”.

Australian officials are bullish about the defence deal, saying it would reshape the region’s strategic environment and significantly expand Japan-Australia defence cooperation in coming years.

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