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Australia, Japan sign free trade, defense deals

Tuesday - 7/8/2014, 3:06am  ET

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is greeted by Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Abe met with his Australian counterpart on Tuesday to sign agreements bolstering defense and trade ties between the countries. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, Pool)

KRISTEN GELINEAU
Associated Press

SYDNEY (AP) -- Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe met with his Australian counterpart on Tuesday to sign agreements bolstering defense and trade ties between the countries.

The defense deal, which involves the transfer of military equipment and technology, comes a week after Japan's government ushered in a new era for the country's defense force by reinterpreting its pacifist constitution to allow greater use of its military to defend allies.

Abe wants Japan to have a larger role in global security amid China's growing military might. The defense policy change drew criticism from Beijing, which is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan.

That leaves Australia in a delicate situation, given that China is its largest trade partner. Prime Minister Tony Abbott sought to downplay any suggestion that Australia's defense deal with Japan -- which centers around plans to jointly develop stealth submarine technology -- is a slight against China.

"Australia welcomes Japan's recent decision to be a more capable strategic partner in our region. I stress: Ours is not a partnership against anyone. It's a partnership for peace, for prosperity and for the rule of law," Abbott told parliament in the nation's capital, Canberra. "Our objective is engagement. And we both welcome the greater trust and openness in our region that's exemplified by China's participation in this year's RIMPAC naval exercises."

RIMPAC, or Rim of the Pacific exercises, are the world's largest maritime drills.

Abe used his speech to parliament in part to address the military policy shift.

"We want to make Japan a country that will work to build an international order that upholds the rule of law," Abe told parliament. "Our desire is to make Japan a country that is all the more willing to contribute to peace in the region and beyond. It is for this reason that Japan has raised the bar of proactive contribution to peace."

In response to a question from a journalist about Beijing's likely reaction to the Australia-Japan defense deal, Abe said Japan was eager to improve its relationship with China.

"The door for dialogue is always open from the Japanese side, so I do sincerely hope that the Chinese side will also take the same posture," Abe said.

Abe, who is on a three-day visit to Australia, also signed a free-trade agreement that will gradually reduce Japan's nearly 40 percent tariffs on Australian exports of beef, and axe Australia's tariffs on Japanese-made vehicles, household appliances and electronics.


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