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Australia pushes defence ties with Japan

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) April 22, 2011
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Friday stressed the importance of strategic ties with Japan in the face of regional threats from terrorism and nuclear-armed North Korea.

She also emphasised the need to involve the United States to ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific region, as she prepared to visit South Korea and China, which has a growing economic and military influence on the region.

"We face a number of shared security challenges, which we work closely together to address, such as our work to counter terrorism in Southeast Asia and against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, not least the DPRK nuclear problem," Gillard told a news conference.

"Australia's relationship with Japan on security and defence issues has grown to become one of the closest and most important that either of us has," she said.

"As staunch US allies, Japan and Australia are as one in welcoming a continued forward presence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific as an important contribution to regional stability."

Gillard arrived in Tokyo Wednesday on a four-day visit for talks with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and to visit areas ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that have left more than 27,000 people dead or missing and crippled a nuclear power plant.

She said Canberra and Washington were among the first to come to Japan's aid as it struggles with the atomic plant which has leaked radiation in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

"We talk a lot about trilateral Australia-Japan-US cooperation," said Gillard, who met Kan Thursday.

"But this was the talk put into action, reflecting the close and enduring relations between our three nations," she said.

Her expression of friendship with Japan and the United States came as she prepared to visit South Korea and China, where she must strike a balance between economic and diplomatic interests with her country's biggest trade partner.

"Australia's perspective is that we have a comprehensive and constructive engagement with China. Our relationship is a positive one," she said.

"Obviously from time to time, we have our differences. Australia's perspective is that prosperous China, engaged in the region's affairs, is good for Australia, good for the region" including Japan, she said.

Gillard acknowledged an emotional disagreement over Japan's whaling programmes, only saying Australia would continue to try to bring the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Japan hunts whales under a loophole in an international moratorium that allows killing of the sea mammals for what it calls "scientific research", although the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.

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