US bill would require US to coordinate Japan AUKUS role with UK and Australia

U.S. President Biden meets with Australian PM Albanese and British PM Sunak at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of senior U.S. senators introduced legislation on Wednesday to require officials involved in the AUKUS defense project with Britain and Australia to engage with them and Japan on how Japan could be included in the project.

A bill, introduced by Republicans Mitt Romney, Bill Hagerty and Jim Risch, and Democrat Tim Kaine, would require the U.S. to coordinate a path forward for Japan's cooperation on advanced technology projects under the so-called Pillar 2 of AUKUS.

AUKUS was formed in 2021 to counteract China's growing power. Its first pillar involves cooperation between the three partners to provide Australia with nuclear powered submarines, but they have raised the possibility of other countries joining a second pillar to develop other high-tech weaponry.

The partners announced in April they were considering working with Japan on specific Pillar 2 projects and would hold talks this year.

In a statement from his office shared with Reuters announcing the Coordinating AUKUS Engagement with Japan Act, Romney said the U.S. must link arms with allies to push back against China's increased "aggression."

"The legislation would require ... (AUKUS) coordinators at both the U.S. Departments of State and Defense to engage with the Japanese government, and consult with counterparts in the U.K and Australia, to discuss what including Japan in certain advanced technology cooperation activities under the AUKUS framework would look like," the statement said.

It quoted Kaine as saying AUKUS was "critical to keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open" and the bill would help "outline a path for Japan’s inclusion in AUKUS and expand defense industrial cooperation among U.S. allies."

Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the legislation would require the Biden administration to engage Japan on its interest in joining AUKUS, assess what unique technological contributions Tokyo could make and whether its export-control system was sufficiently aligned to that of the existing partners.

"Importantly, it also ensures the executive branch consult with its counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia before expanding AUKUS," he said.

AUKUS already faces hurdles from strict U.S. restrictions on sharing technology and there has been some hesitation about involving Japan, with officials and experts highlighting its cyber and information security vulnerabilities.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)