Japan National Press Club

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

15 October 2013


It's an honour to address the Japan National Press Club on my first visit to Tokyo as Australia's new Foreign Minister – as I wished to visit Japan very early in my term – indeed it is less than 4 weeks since I took up this role.Our national election was held on 7 September – the same day Tokyo was given rights to host the 2020 summer Olympics, so an auspicious date for us both!

I'm also very pleased to have an opportunity, later today, to meet with Prime Minister Abe and with Foreign Minister Kishida.

The Foreign Minister and I hope to build on the productive meetings we have already held in the past month during the UN General Assembly in New York and in the margins of APEC in Bali.

Today I will talk about:

  • the partnership between our two countries,
  • the importance of our economic relationship, and
  • building the regional and the international order, on open, rules-based principles.

No nation has been more important to Australia finding its place in Asia than Japan.

Economics and trade have been, throughout our history together, a keystone of our bilateral relations.

They aren't the whole story – as our shared values and increasing security and strategic collaboration attest.

But they will remain central to our efforts to further deepen our friendship, and to our mutual success in coming decades.

Our foreign policy approach in government will be one that puts economic diplomacy first;

Putting our international assets, including our foreign policy and our international network, to work for the benefit of Australia's long-term economic prosperity;

Keeping economic reform and trade liberalisation foremost in our minds;

Supporting open, transparent, rules-based trading systems;

Pursuing an ambitious free trade agenda;

Supporting a vibrant business sector, both at home and abroad;

And working for closer ties to Asia.

We will pursue 'economic diplomacy' not as an end in itself – but because prosperity – along with spreading democracy and the application of the rule of law – has been a vital support for the peace our region has enjoyed for nearly 70 years.

For Australia puts the highest priority on global economic reform and trade liberalisation, as a key way of securing jobs and economic growth.

But first let me begin with some history.

In January 1950, shortly after a new Coalition Government under Sir Robert Menzies had been elected to office, Australia's then Foreign Minister, Sir Percy Spender, spoke of the foreign policy approach that Australia would adopt in the post-war era, and I quote:

"Geographically Australia is next door to Asia and our destiny as a nation is irrevocably conditioned by what takes place in Asia.This means that our future depends to an ever increasing degree upon the stability of our Asian neighbours, upon the economic well-being of Asian people, and upon the development of understanding and friendly relations between Australia and Asia.Whilst it remains true that peace is indivisible, and that what takes place in any part of the world may affect us, our vital interests are closer to home.It is therefore in Asia and the Pacific that Australia should make its primary effort in the field of foreign relations". 63 years on and I feel I can adopt that statement as my own.

The Commerce Agreement

It was in 1957 that this foreign policy found expression in an historic Commerce Agreement, signed by Australia and Japan.

While it wasn't the first time we'd paid attention to improving trade relations between Australia and Japan, as we'd had trade missions here at least as far back as the 1930s, it was an extraordinarily significant achievement between two countries who had been at war just over a decade earlier.

In 1957, the Australian Prime Minister was still Sir Robert Menzies.

The Japanese Prime Minister was Nobusuke Kishi.

Kishi was – as everyone here knows – the grandfather of Prime Minister Abe.

While no one in our new Coalition Government can claim to be Sir Robert Menzies' grandchild, perhaps we could get away with calling ourselves his spiritual god-children, such is his influence as the founder of our Liberal Party almost 70 years ago.

At the time of the signing of the Commerce Agreement my predecessor as Foreign Minister was Richard Casey – he had been Australia's first Ambassador to Washington, in 1939, and later was appointed Australia's Governor-General.

After a visit to Japan in 1959, a couple of years after the Commerce Agreement was signed, Richard Casey reflected on the future of the Australia-Japan relationship in a letter to a ministerial colleague.

His words were profound: as he wrote;

I came away from Japan with an acute realization of the importance of trade relations within our overall relations with that country.

I believe that the goodwill shown on both sides and the business like administration of the Trade Treaty have contributed much to the steady improvement in general relations. Indeed, I would not wish to minimize the value of this favourable trade climate for enhancing cooperation and understanding in other fields…

I think there is an awareness that Japan's interests as a trading and shipping nation … can best be served by her belonging to the community of nations pursuing multilateral trade policies.

His reflections are as true today as they were in the late 1950s, so allow me to apply his themes to our current circumstances.

Australia and Japan in an evolving Asia

First, Casey wrote of the importance of trade within the broader context of bilateral relations – so true.

Trade has been, for Australia, a vital stepping stone in building relationships with Asia.

Long before it became a modern nation in 1901, Australia had struggled to find its place in this region.

Our origins, as a nation, lay on the other side of the world, in the European age of empire-building.

Our culture was blended - a transplantation of British culture in an ancient land with an ancient people which has lasted for tens of thousands of years.Waves of migration over generations added further diversity to our population.

And our geography brought its own uniqueness – an island continent that is part of Asia, yet also a discrete physical entity in its own right.

While we debated where we stood in the world, our economic strengths were clear: in agriculture, in mining, in resources, for Australia had raw materials that were vital for the economic transformation taking place in countries including Japan.

For Australia, grappling with the immense diversity among the Asian cultures to our north, began with trade.

We understood the keystone to building deep, lasting, broad-based relationships with our neighbours in Asia was establishing economic and trade ties.

And Japan was the first.

In the years leading up to and following the Commerce Agreement, Japan's economic transformation began to fundamentally redraw the lines of power in the world.

The effect of Japan's rise in the 1950s and 1960s flowed throughout the region – and ultimately throughout the globe.

That process continued through the other Asian economic miracles of the second half of the 20th Century – Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Korea.

And it continues today, through the re-emergence of China and India to the top rung of nations in the international order – a position they had held a couple of centuries ago.

We can trace the success of Australia's modern economy to that Commerce Agreement of 1957.Australia's trade relationship with Japan has indeed flourished since the Commerce Agreement was signed and Japan's industrialisation took place.

For decades, Japan was our largest trading partner and today Japan remains our second-largest trading partner, with $71 billion traded between us in 2012.

We are Japan's third-largest source of merchandise imports,

and Japan's largest supplier of primary energy.

We are a reliable source of safe and clean food, and a welcoming destination for investment from Japan, our third largest investor after the US and the UK.

Japan is far and away Australia's largest source of Asian capital.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, Australia wants to continue to deepen and broaden our economic and personal ties, and our integration with and understanding of Asia.

One of the Abbott Government's signature policies is what we call the New Colombo Plan – a reference to the Colombo Plan that began in the 1950s under the Menzies Government.

That scheme brought over 40,000 students from the region to study in Australian institutions between the 1950s and 1980s.

In reviving the spirit of the Colombo Plan, we propose to offer Australian university students the opportunity to study in Asian universities, and undertake internships with companies doing business in the host country.

Sending our young people into the region will build our Asia literacy, boost our innovation, and build ties with the regional leaders of the future.

I very much hope that Japan, our closest partner in the region, will be involved in the pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan in 2014.

Our aim is to see increasing numbers of Australians studying in Japan – which I hope will also support Prime Minister Abe's goal of doubling the number of foreign students in Japan by 2020.

Already our Prime Ministers have discussed the initiative and I will discuss the details with Minister Kishida when we meet later today.

Wider cooperation – security

Back to Richard Casey's 1959 observations -

He predicted that our "favourable trade climate" would serve as an incubator for cooperation in other fields, and wider understanding.

Such prescience for that prediction has come to pass.

Today we are very comfortable with the growing defence and security co-operation between our two countries.

This has fast become one of the pillars of our bilateral relationship and is an area we are keen to strengthen further.

We cooperate more deeply on security and defence because – as we have learnt more about each other and become strong friends – we have recognised how much we share values and strategic interests.

At the opposite poles of the Asian region, we share a deep commitment to democracy, to the rule of law, to human rights and to peaceful coexistence.

And we recognise that our defence capabilities are complementary;

That, as allies of the United States, we have mutually supportive roles to play in the security of the region. The closeness of our security ties was most recently reflected in the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue held in Bali on October 4, during which Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Kishida and I discussed current and emerging issues of global and regional concern to the US, Japan and Australia.

In 2007 Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Howard signed the Australia-Japan Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation - which provides for wide-ranging cooperation in peacekeeping, on humanitarian operations, in counter-terrorism and law enforcement.

That declaration also established a 2+2 meeting of foreign and defence ministers – and Australia remains one of only a handful of countries to hold such meetings with Japan.

Our defence forces have worked closely together: in Iraq, East Timor, Pakistan, Cambodia, South Sudan – and here in Japan in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Australia was the only country other than the United States to provide strategic airlift capability to the Self-Defence Force in Japan – a measure of just how close our defence relationship has become.

Against this background, we look forward to Japan making a greater contribution to security in our region and beyond – including through our alliances with the United States.

We support Japan's plan to work towards a more normal defence posture to help it play that greater role.

The next step in strengthening the bilateral relationship is to conclude the bilateral FTA.

After six years of discussion, it is time to seal the deal.

This will take our relationship to the next level.

It must be an outcome that delivers commercially meaningful results for both countries and be mutually beneficial.

I believe both sides are ready to be ambitious and pragmatic, because we know that a deal makes economic sense for both of us.

The bottom line is an FTA would strengthen the relationship, make trade both ways more efficient and profitable, give more options for consumers and support Japan's security of supply.

With his family's links to the origins of the modern Australia-Japan relationship, it was wholly fitting that it was Prime Minister Abe who committed Japan to free trade negotiations with Australia.

It would be even more fitting if it were Prime Minister Abe who concluded them.

Economic reform

Turning again to Richard Casey's remarks, he pointed to Japan's interest in "belonging to the community of nations pursuing multilateral trade policies".

The pursuit of multilateral reform benefits all nations.

That is a truth that applies to Australia, and every other nation in our region.

Indeed, the transformation in our region since the 1950s – led by Japan, but also underpinned by the presence of the United States – has proven the value for all nations in pursuing economic reform and trade liberalisation.

I believe Australia's long-term priority is intrinsically tied to our success in growing and improving our economy,

  • in making ourselves more competitive,
  • in being smarter and more innovative,
  • in making it easier for Australian businesses to access markets,
  • and in attracting foreign investment.

The Abbott Government is committed to improving even further Australia's attractiveness as a business destination.

We hope to make it easier to do business in Australia, not harder.

We will abolish the mineral resource rent tax and the carbon tax.

We will cut red tape costs by $1 billion each and every year.

And we will cut "green tape" around major projects.

We will set aside at least two days in each Parliamentary year to do nothing but repeal unnecessary legislation and regulation.I feel sure we'll be able to sell tickets to our 'Repeal Days'!

We are watching with great interest the progress of the Japanese Government's efforts to revitalise Japan's economy.

The whole world has a stake in Abenomics.

A healthy and vibrant Japanese economy is important not only for the people of Japan, it is an international public good.

We welcome the vision shown in Prime Minister Abe's announcement in April of Japan's decision to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

That was a bold decision – and if the TPP can be realised, its effect will flow throughout the region and provide the necessary momentum for global trade liberalisation.

The revitalisation of Japan's economy will face hurdles from within and without.

Japan is an integral part of the global economy and there will be challenges.

Australia wants to be an active partner for Japan as it continues on the path to change.

Community of nations

Finally, Richard Casey spoke of the idea of the "community of nations".

I found that a striking concept for the 1950s – and deeply relevant to our world today.

It is a reminder of our common interest – our global common interest.

It is true that Japan and Australia's strategic interests are aligned.

We have shared purposes in providing humanitarian and disaster relief, in nuclear non-proliferation, in cyber security, space and counter-terrorism.

But more fundamentally, we have an interest in a stable, predictable, rules-based order – both around the world, and specifically in Asia.

Regional institutions – particularly the East Asia Summit – are central to our efforts to preserve the peace that has underpinned our prosperity.

That is why Australia wants to continue working with Japan to strengthen the East Asia Summit as the premier regional forum, which has the right membership and mandate for our region.

The recent summit in Brunei showed the value of the EAS as the key forum for leaders to discuss regional security, and shared challenges like food security and disaster relief.

Australia and Japan share a clear-sighted understanding of the role of financial and economic integration in regional stability and prosperity.

That is why the annual APEC leaders' summit in Bali and the EAS finance ministers meeting in Washington are so important.

Our regional cooperation also extends to a close partnership in global multilateral institutions -

In the United Nations, in the World Trade Organization, in the G20.

Even as we look to finalise our FTA and the TPP, both our countries remain deeply committed to multilateral approaches – and we will not waver in our efforts to bring the Doha Round closer to some resolution.

Like Japan, we are active participants in the United Nations, which is important to continuing efforts to strengthen the international rules-based order.

Australia is committed to contributing constructively to the Security Council's agenda, and we thank Japan for its support.

As a member, we are engaging with Japan on our shared interests in addressing the most pressing challenges to international peace and security, particularly in our own region.

We note the Council's timely and robust response to North Korea's provocations this year, and we will continue to work with Japan to ensure the Security Council remains focused on combating this threat.

We support broad reform of the United Nations, and we would like to see Japan have a permanent seat on the Security Council.

The development of the G20 is a further example of how Australia and Japan have worked together to shape regional and global institutions – even as the globe grappled with the dysfunction of the financial crisis of 2008.

No other group available to the global community today has the same balance in terms of a broad and relevant representation, along with the ability to move quickly and nimbly against the challenges facing the global economy.

The G20 proved its worth during the financial crisis.

But if the importance of its work at other times – outside of an immediate economic or financial crisis – is not sufficiently recognised, then both Japan and Australia must play an important role in ensuring the G20 remains dynamic and relevant.

In November next year, Australia will use our hosting of the G20 summit to seek to bring about global consensus on trade liberalisation and broader economic reform.


Japan and Australia are vital partners in Asia.

Ours is a partnership – and a friendship – that has deepened and matured as each decade has passed.

There are few countries that have more to offer each other than Australia and Japan – in trade, in education, in cultural exchanges and in the pursuit of peace and prosperity.

I believe that the best days of our relationship lie ahead, as we work together to build a strong, stable regional and global order.

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