No virtual reality for Morrison, Yoshi

Paul Osborne
·3-min read

You could be mistaken for thinking Yoshi and ScoMo was the next big thing for Nintendo.

But it was no virtual game when Japan's new leader Yoshihide Suga met Prime Minister Scott Morrison face-to-face in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The two leaders greeted each other with a COVID-era elbow before heading to the Kantei's main hall where a band played the national anthems.

A large Japanese media pack was on hand at the prime ministerial residence to witness the first international leader to visit Japan since Mr Suga took over from long-time friend of Australia, Shinzo Abe, in September.

Mr Morrison said he would call Mr Suga "Yoshi" and invited the former chief cabinet adviser to call him "ScoMo".

The pair discussed regional security and gave the green light to an in-principle agreement on defence cooperation rules, which Mr Morrison described as a "pivotal moment" in relations between the two countries.

The deal - known as the reciprocal access agreement - sets out the terms and conditions for the Australian and Japanese militaries to undertake exercises on each other's soil, covering such areas as customs, taxation, fuel and munitions.

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

But the leaders have agreed that in terms of criminal jurisdiction each case will be treated individually.

Mr Suga and Mr Morrison are expected to formally sign the treaty in Australia next year.

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

"The reciprocal access agreement represents a pivotal moment in the history of Japan-Australia ties," Mr Morrison said.

"This agreement paves the way for a new chapter of advanced defence cooperation between our two countries.

"We share a special strategic partnership and are deeply committed to working together in support of a free, open, inclusive and stable Indo-Pacific.

"Our partnership is built on shared values and interests, and enduring trust and respect."

Depending on the final terms, it may require the Australian parliament to pass implementing laws, but it will be scrutinised by the treaties committee.

It would also need the approval of Japan's parliament.

Analysts say the agreement will send a clear signal to the wider region that Japan is prepared to work more closely with Australia and other nations on security, as China flexes its military might.

Mr Morrison presented Mr Suga with a Bill Granger cookbook, an indigenous painting and a set of Sydney 2000 Olympic medals.

Mr Suga, who enjoys the ricotta pancakes served at Granger's cafe in Tokyo's Ginza district, is understood to have loved the gifts.

A red hand-blown vase emblazoned with a kangaroo paw by Aussie artist Amanda Louden was picked out by Jenny Morrison and given to the Japanese prime minister's wife, Suga Mariko.

Mr Morrison also met with Mr Abe, presenting him with a pair of whisky glasses and a single malt from Lark Distillery in Tasmania.

When he returns, the prime minister will go into isolation at The Lodge for 14 days, during which time he will dial into the upcoming APEC and G20 leaders' summits and federal parliament.