Australia needs to ramp up its already strong ties with Japan in the face of rapidly accelerating economic, environmental and social changes in both countries and a dramatically changing geopolitical environment, a leading expert from The Australian National University (ANU) says.
Associate Professor Shiro Armstrong, Director of the ANU Australia-Japan Research Centre, has made the call to action in a major new report, Reimagining the Japan Relationship.
"Japan is Australia's benchmark relationship in Asia," Associate Professor Armstrong said. "It is the world's third largest economy, Australia's second largest source of investment and until a fall in commodity trade in 2020, was Australia's second largest trading partner.
"Australia's relationship with Japan has never been closer. Prime Minister Scott Morrison's trip to Japan one year ago for an in-person summit with then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was his only official trip overseas that year and the only visit to another country as prime minister in close to 19 months.
"But the Japan relationship must be reimagined if it is to cope with major challenges that both countries face at home and abroad if it is to survive and thrive in the 21st century."
A key challenge both countries will need to solve in partnership is how to address climate change and meet future energy needs.
Australia supplies two thirds of Japan's key industrial materials and close to one third of its entire energy needs.
According to Associate Professor Armstrong, the structure of this trade will have to change fundamentally, as Australia and Japan decarbonise their economies.
"The energy and demographic transitions under way in both countries drive the agenda that is needed to transform the bilateral relationship and its regional and international roles," he said.
Reimagining the Japan Relationship has been commissioned by the Australia-Japan Foundation.
Bruce Miller AO, former Ambassador to Japan and Chair of the Australia-Japan Foundation, said: "This is an ambitious and forward looking report that comes at an important time in the development of Australia's relationship with Japan.
"It's about developing new institutional frameworks that thicken the relationship at all levels. Now is the time to invest in the capacity to better understand and engage Japan as it becomes more important for Australia".
Key recommendations in the new report include:
- A joint Australia-Japan Energy Initiative that brings together government, industry, experts and stakeholder groups to accelerate and facilitate the energy transition.
- Australia's designation of Japan as a most favoured partner, broadening the traditional definition of most-favoured nation to consider expanding to Japan equal best treatment in other relationships across all domains unilaterally. For example, granting similar working visa access to Japan as Australia may grant to the UK.
- Initiating Dialogues for Change that involve business, government, academia and community leaders focused on gender diversity and the movement of people.
- A Joint Australia-Japan Study by experts to frame the agenda for comprehensive security in the region.
- Expanding the New Colombo Plan to include a postgraduate stream.
- Investing in exchanges and study programs, leveraging the 107 sister city relationships and 553 sister school relationship.
- Introducing and rewarding qualifications in Japan-literacy and experience in the federal and state public service and industry.
"Over 300 organisations and individuals were consulted in preparing this report and there is huge interest in Japan in the community, not just as a trade partner and tourist destination but strategically, as we manage a more uncertain international environment," Associate Professor Armstrong said.
Peter Grey, the newly appointed President of the Australia-Japan Business Cooperation Committee, the peak bilateral business body, said: "This is a very timely and well-researched report.
"The relationship between Australia and Japan has never been better - but the rapidly changing business environment means we need to be constantly re-evaluating and redoubling our efforts.
"Many new bilateral business opportunities are emerging. The business community will welcome any additional initiatives on Japan that have the potential to lead to further enhanced partnership between our countries."
Read the full report online.