Japan and Australia agreed Thursday that Australian troops will participate in large-scale joint command post drills between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military for the first time ever, the Defense Ministry said.
During their talks in Tokyo, Defense Minister Minoru Kihara and his Australian counterpart Richard Marles, with an eye on China's growing clout in the region, pledged to boost trilateral security cooperation with the United States, the ministry said.
The Australian Defense Force is set to join two planned Japan-U.S. command post exercises, "Yama Sakura" from late November and "Keen Edge" in February, according to the ministry.
The participation of Australia is "vitally important in terms of reinforcing the command and control function among the Japanese, Australian and U.S. forces," Kihara told reporters after the meeting.
The defense chiefs also welcomed an announcement earlier in the day on a deal of a joint laser technology development project between the Australian Defense Department and Japan's Mitsubishi Electric Corp.
The project, involving Mitsubishi Electric's wholly owned subsidiary in Australia, is intended to help the Australian military enhance its surveillance and other capabilities.
The meeting between Japanese and Australia defense chiefs comes as the two countries, which are close allies of the United States, have been deepening their security partnership in recent years, as Beijing's military assertiveness has increased, particularly in the East and South China seas.
In August, the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement took effect, enabling quicker dispatch of defense personnel between the two nations and easing restrictions on the transport of weapons and supplies for joint drills and disaster relief operations.
Kihara, known as a pro-Taiwan lawmaker, held a meeting with Marles, who doubles as the Australian deputy prime minister, for the first time as defense minister since he assumed the position in a Cabinet revamp in September.
Japan and Australia had originally arranged "two-plus-two" security talks involving their foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo on Friday but put them off due to the escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, government sources said.
The two countries are part of the Quad framework, along with the United States and India, aimed at strengthening cooperation in various fields such as the economy. The group has gained traction as a counterweight to China, particularly at a time of intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry.