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Australia, Japan Sign Historic Defense Accord


Australian Prime Minister John Howard has dismissed suggestions that a new security pact with Japan will harm his country's ties with China. Mr. Howard is on an official four-day visit to Japan, to sign a historic defense treaty with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Australia has been looking to exert more influence in Asia, and a security agreement being signed Tuesday with Japan is another important step in that direction.

Prime Minister John Howard has been driven by two principal concerns. First, his government wants to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation with its regional neighbors. Then there are powerful business considerations.

Trade with Asia is the lifeblood of the Australian economy, and Japan is the biggest export market for Australian goods and services.

A defense pact with Japan is likely to be followed by discussions on a free-trade deal.

Opposition politicians here have raised concerns about the impact this all may have on Australia's growing relationship with the Chinese.

Mr. Howard, in response, has been careful to stress that closer ties with Tokyo do not mean that relations with Beijing will suffer.

"I don't expect there will be any enduring sensitivities on the part of China, anymore than there are any enduring sensitivities on the part of China in respect of our close alliance with the United States," he said.

Canberra has indicated that the security accord with Japan will focus less on what the Australian foreign minister calls "aggressive-type military actions," and more on disaster relief and efforts to combat terrorism.

There is also likely to be greater cooperation in dealing with any nuclear threat from North Korea. Japan, which has an antagonistic relationship with North Korea, is considered one of the nations most threatened by Pyongyang's missiles and nuclear weapons.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says a security pact with Australia will help to stabilize the entire Asia-Pacific region. He denies that the accord is a response to the military build-up by China.

The defense deal is the first Japan has signed with a country other than the U.S.

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