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Visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe agreed on Thursday to speed up negotiations on a defense pact and sign it at an early date, an act regarded by a Chinese expert as evidence of Japan"s plan to expand its military power.
The two countries are working toward a Visiting Forces Agreement, which, if formally reached, will enable them to transport military equipment and ammunition onto each other"s soil smoothly and make it easier for Japan"s Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defense Force to conduct joint drills.
A VFA is the legal document that defines the legal status of military personnel involved in any temporary military activities within the respective country"s territory. This includes joint military exercises and disaster relief missions.
The VFA also provides exemptions on customs requirements for military equipment, and allows for the transportation of arms and hardware.
Turnbull and Abe viewed a PAC-3 missile interceptor on Thursday at a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force camp in Funabashi city. They also got inside a Bushmaster armored vehicle, which was developed in Australia and adopted by Japan"s military in 2014.
"Abe wants to extend its military capabilities to major parts of the world after Japan"s lifting of a ban in exercising the collective self-defense right," said Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University.
"For Australia, it wants to join hands with Japan so as to balance against the growing influence of China (in the region)," Zhou added.
In January 2017, the two countries inked the Japan-Australia Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement, which stipulates that the SDF and Australian armed forces will supply fuel and other materials such as ammunition on-site during activities such as United Nations peacekeeping operations and disaster-relief activities.
Japan also wants to start talks on a VFA with Britain by the end of this year, eyeing deepening international security cooperation through multiple avenues by strengthening coordination with "quasi-allies".
The Mainichi Shimbun reported that Japan will expand MSDF "strategic port calls" this year. The MSDF is set to dispatch its helicopter carrier Izumo to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in summer this year to conduct exchanges with defense agencies and offer training for young officers.
Japan"s Defense Ministry is also looking to take part in an international anti-piracy force operating off Somalia.