Australia is keen to see Japan collaborate with the AUKUS security partnership, also involving the United States and Britain, on defense technology development in the future, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles said in a recent interview.

While ruling out Tokyo's participation in the centerpiece project for AUKUS to deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, Marles said Australia wants to "work more closely with Japan" on technological developments, acknowledging that the Asian nation is a "place of innovation" and is "at the cutting edge of technology."

"I think it is natural that we would be talking about a greater level of cooperation between the three countries -- U.S., UK and Australia -- and Japan, in terms of joint collaborations going forward," he said in the interview with Kyodo News in the Australian capital.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles gives an interview on Feb. 13, 2024, in the Australian capital of Canberra. (Kyodo)

AUKUS was launched in 2021 as the United States and its allies beef up their security cooperation amid China's assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. The first pillar focuses on the nuclear submarine acquisition, while the second pillar is aimed at developing a range of advanced capabilities in areas such as artificial intelligence and hypersonic missiles.

AUKUS has been open to engage with allies and partners on pillar two, but Marles indicated that collaboration with Japan would not happen anytime soon as AUKUS is still "very much focused on working on new innovative technologies amongst the three countries."

"As pillar two becomes more mature, which is going to take some years...I think there is an opportunity at that point to look at how we can cooperate with Japan in relation to that," he said.

Canada and New Zealand have also expressed interest in working with AUKUS members in the pillar-two area.

Asked whether Tokyo should also consider acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, the Australian minister said it was "a matter for Japan," and he "would not seek to venture an opinion."

Australia made a decision "in the context of our strategic needs," Marles said, noting that "we desperately need a highly capable long-range submarine" as an island nation located far away from other countries.

Speaking on the bilateral defense relationship between Canberra and Tokyo, Marles noted that "Australia and Japan have never been more strategically aligned than we are now."

The minister also welcomed the prospect of Japan using Australia's vast continent as a testing ground for long-range missiles, as Tokyo seeks to acquire capabilities to strike targets in enemy territory.

"Our training areas are amongst the best in the world, and we're very keen to work with Japan in relation to them, and see Japan have the opportunity to use them," he said of Australia's long-range test sites.

In a major defense policy shift for the country upholding a pacifist Constitution, Japan pledged to acquire "counterstrike capabilities" in late 2022 amid the tough regional security environment. It plans to develop homemade long-range missiles and procure U.S.-produced Tomahawk cruise missiles toward that end.

Australia and Japan have been strengthening their defense cooperation in recent years, including signing a reciprocal access agreement that came into effect last August that enables quicker deployment of defense personnel between the two nations.

Marles reiterated the "strong ambition" on both sides to further the relationship, and said Australia is "keen to increase the tempo" of cooperation.

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