Morrison heads to Japan for leader talks

Paul Osborne
·2-min read

Defence, energy and a potential travel bubble will be on the agenda when Scott Morrison meets with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.

Mr Morrison will be the first foreign leader to meet with Yoshihide Suga in Japan since he took over from Shinzo Abe as prime minister.

The key issue on the agenda will be a pact known as the "reciprocal access agreement" which would more clearly set out the legal terms and conditions for the Australian and Japanese militaries to undertake exercises and other activities.

One of the sticking points in the agreement - which has been in negotiation since 2014 - has been Australia objecting to any of its defence force members being subject to the death penalty under Japan's legal system.

If signed, it would be the first such deal for Japan since the 1960 status of forces agreement with the United States.

It would still need the approval of Japan's parliament which is meeting at the same time as Mr Morrison's visit.

Security experts say it would be a step forward in expanding the defence relationship with Japan and send a signal to the region that Japan wants to play a broader role in the Indo-Pacific.

Mr Morrison and Mr Suga are also expected to discuss the coronavirus response and the potential for a travel bubble between the two countries.

But the bubble could be some time away, given Japan still has over 1000 cases a day.

As well, the leaders will talk about the impact of the foreign policy priorities of US president-elect Joe Biden.

Mr Suga was chief cabinet secretary to former prime minister Abe for eight years and as such is expected to maintain continuity of Japan's foreign policy.

Mr Morrison will discuss cooperation on developing a hydrogen industry with business leaders before his formal bilateral meeting with Mr Suga and officials on Tuesday night.

Prior to the visit, Mr Morrison said the relationship with Japan had gone "from strength to strength".

"They are an important partner on so many issues within our region," he said.

"We are special strategic partners, we work closely together on trade, security, defence, technology issues."

On his return, the prime minister will go into isolation at The Lodge for 14 days which will also mean he will have to video link in to parliament when it sits later in the month.