Just as the thumping victory by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party under Shinzo Abe in December 2011 over the ‘progressive’ Democratic Party of Japan is good for Japan–Australia relations, the thumping victory by the Liberal–National Coalition under Tony Abbott last Saturday against the Australian Labor Party led by Kevin Rudd is good for Australia–Japan relations.
Even before the new Coalition government is sworn in, there are three main reasons why such a categorical judgment is possible.
First, as stated clearly in the Coalition’s foreign policy platform (PDF), the new government will return to the successful policy settings of the Howard years that places Japan as Australia’s closest and most important partner in Asia and focusses on strengthening both the economic and strategic elements of the relationship. The attenuated Labor government under Prime Minister Rudd from 2007–10 didn’t share such a view, in word or action.
Second, there are powerful commonalities between the policy programs of Abe’s government and the foreign policy statements of the incoming Abbott government. Abe is promoting economic diplomacy and free trade deals as a mechanism for the structural reform of the Japanese economy. The Coalition will also focus on economic diplomacy and the completion of trade deals with Australia’s major Asian trading partners which have lagged under Labor. Both Abe and Abbott have promised new defence white papers and a boost to flagging defence spending. Both Abe and Abbott are committed to deepening engagement with Asia with a particular focus on Southeast Asia. Japan is one of four Asian jurisdictions mentioned as likely sites for pilot projects under the Coalitions ‘reverse Colombo Plan’ (Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong are the other three).
Lastly, Prime Ministers Howard and Koizumi and Prime Ministers Howard and Abe formed close personal relationships aided by their common Liberal values that underpinned the significant boosting of the bilateral relationship last decade. Abbott and Abe are both political pragmatists guided by a strong commitment to Liberal values.
Closer and broader relations between Japan and Australia are good for both countries and for the region as a whole, and will help both countries avoid being blinded by the growth, size and uncertainty of the People’s Republic of China when it comes to their Asian engagement policies. Closer Japan–Australia cooperation on shared interests in Asia, including the strengthening the maritime capabilities of key South and Southeast Asian states, would be a good topic for the Abbott and Abe governments to consider.
Malcolm Cook is presently working on an Australia–Japan Foundation project analysing the future of Japan–Australia security relations. Image courtesy of Flickr user CSIS.