In a statement following a joint virtual meeting on June 9, Australia and Japan’s foreign ministers, Marise Payne and Motegi Toshimitsu, and defense ministers, Peter Dutton and Kishi Nobuo, announced that both countries “would commit to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior by economic means, which undermines the rules-based international system.”
Japan and Australia have become increasingly concerned over China’s behavior, as both countries have been on the receiving end of Beijing’s belligerent push to become a global power.
Australia has experienced increasing levels of economic coercion from the Chinese communist regime through its use of trade tariffs on eight major exports, including wine, beef, and barley. At the same time, Japan has been forced to increasingly defend its territorial waters from Chinese encroachments, using coast guard vessels and what has been dubbed a maritime militia—a point that Japan and Australia made in the joint statement, noting they were also strongly opposed to the behavior China has displayed in the East and South China Seas.
“We express our objections to China’s maritime claims and activities that are inconsistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the statement said. “We reinforce our strong opposition to any destabilising or coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.”
The allies also called out Beijing for its human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Australia Leverages Alliances
The joint statement was released a week after New Zealand and Australia issued a statement declaring their support for each other and also follows the United States’ declaration that it will continue to support Australia, signaling to the Chinese regime that the liberal democratic nations of the Indo-Pacific will stand together in the face of its increasing push for power and dominance.
James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology in Sydney, believes that the Chinese Communist Party currently no longer believes it needs to operate under the rules of the international system.
“China feels as though its power has reached a level where it simply does not have to defer to the wishes of other countries,” Laurenceson said.
But he noted that it won’t escalate tensions with any rash acts of aggression, because that would “crystallize a hard balancing coalition against China that would make it harder for Beijing to achieve both its domestic and foreign policy objectives.”
Laurenceson believes the best answer to the increasing aggression from Beijing is for countries to continue to prioritize strong ties built on mutual trust.
Mike Green, foreign policy analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told The Australian it was “stunning how aggressive Xi Jinping and the CCP have become.”
“It seems China’s assessment is they have a five-to-10-year window to cement their leadership position in Asia, and that explains why they’ve been pressuring everyone simultaneously: Australia, India, Taiwan, Japan.”
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese regime, responded to the joint statement from Japan and Australia by telling both countries to stop “hyping up the so-called China Threat” and accused them of “maliciously slandering China.” He urged Australia and Japan to “stop meddling in China’s international affairs” and abide by the basic norms of international relations.