December 28, 2021
The governments of Japan and Australia have entered the final coordination phase of an agreement on cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the Australian armed forces that may be concluded as early as next month, several government sources said.
The Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) stipulates the legal status of elements of the SDF and Australian military during their stays in each other’s country.
Keeping China in mind as it intensifies its maritime advance, the agreement is aimed at facilitating elements of both countries to visit the partner country, thus beefing up security cooperation.
Unlike the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which assumes a long stay for the U.S. forces in Japan, the RAA bears joint drills and the like in mind, and is the first to be signed by Japan.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will sign the agreement with his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison if he visits Australia next month. Should Kishida shelve his visit due to the spread of the coronavirus, the government will coordinate its ambassador to Australia to sign it.
The RAA is a sort of “visiting forces agreement” that will be applied to the countries concerned. The central pillar of the agreement is: to make SDF and Australian armed forces personnel exempt from immigration checks and tariff on their belongings; and to simplify the procedures on arms, ammunition, supplies and other property brought into each other’s country when they have a temporary stay for joint drills, disaster relief, rescue operations and the like.
Negotiations over the RAA started in July 2014. However, as Australia indicated concern over Japan’s death penalty system, the talks had rough going for a time. To jointly deal with the threat of China, which is intensifying its advance into the East and South China Seas, however, both governments accelerated their talks.
As to criminal jurisdiction when military or civilian personnel of the Australian armed forces commit offenses in Japan, the authorities of the Japanese government will waive their right to exercise jurisdiction if the offenses arise in the performance of official duties, such as drills. When offenses are committed outside official duties, Japanese law will be applied.
For the agreement to take effect, the relevant domestic laws must be prepared in both countries. The Japanese government intends to submit related bills to the ordinary Diet session, slated to convene next month.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force this autumn carried out the “protection of weapons and the like” for the first time for Australian Navy vessels, an operation to protect vessels and aircraft with the use of weapons. This was the second time for the SDF to have done so, following the one carried out for U.S. forces. Japan considers Australia a “quasi-ally.”
If the RAA between Japan and Australia is concluded, it will be easier for the joint drills by Japan, the United States and Australia to be held in Japan. Japan has also been moving ahead with negotiations with the United Kingdom toward signing an RAA, and France has also shown an eagerness to do so.