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Japanese Warships Heading to Australia for Landmark Visit

Crew members from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force ship Umigiri stand on deck between Japan's Self-Defense Force flag alongside an Australian flag before joint exercises in Australia.

For the first time, a Japanese navy ship will take part in joint military exercises in Australian waters. Analysts say it is a sign of growing defense ties between the Asia-Pacific partners. Last week the Australian government was criticized for not giving advance notice of a visit by Chinese warships to Sydney.

Every two years, the Australian and United States military take part in Exercise Talisman Sabre. The war-games are mostly conducted across northern and eastern Australia.

This year defense forces from New Zealand, Canada and Britain will participate. For the first time, the Japanese navy will also be involved in maneuvers that are designed to foster greater defense cooperation and integration among the allies.

Australia and the United States have a military accord dating back to the 1950s, and increasingly the two nations have sought greater military ties with Tokyo, a former World War II enemy.

"You are seeing far greater strategic, military, defense and intelligence cooperation between these three countries," said Dr. John Lee, from the United States Studies Center in Sydney. "You can also bet that there will be far more public support for Japanese warships and exercises with Japanese warships compared to the situation when Chinese PLA [People’s Liberation Army] ships appeared suddenly in Sydney."

The Australian government was criticized for not announcing in advance that three Chinese warships would be sailing into Sydney Harbor earlier this month on a pre-planned four-day stopover.

Analysts say Chinese authorities would be monitoring this month’s Exercise Talisman Sabre carefully. Most of the drills that run from late June to early August will take place in the Shoalwater Bay military training area and surrounding forests near Rockhampton, in Central Queensland.

The simulated battles will involve up to 25,000 military personnel operating at sea, on land and in the skies.

Australian officials say the relationship with Japan is its most "mature in Asia" that is "underpinned by a shared commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as well as common approaches to international security."