The U.S. is expected to urge Japan and Australia to step-up military and security cooperation to help contain simmering territorial tensions in Asia, as the leaders of the three allies meet for the first time in seven years on the sidelines of summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Brisbane this weekend.
The meeting risks antagonizing Beijing, which bristles at perceptions that its rise in the region is being challenged, but also comes as the U.S. and Japan are working to repair ties with China, while Australia is looking to deepen its increasingly important economic relations with the country.
Earlier this week in Beijing, U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing made unexpectedly significant strides in improving an often-thorny relationship, striking new climate, trade and visa agreements. Messrs. Xi and Obama also reached two new agreements designed to avert military confrontations in Asia, one on notifying each other of major activities, such as military exercises, and the other on rules of behavior for encounters at sea and in the air.
Also this week in Beijing, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shook hands and met briefly with Mr. Xi, in what was seen as a first step in a potential thaw in the chilly relationship between Beijing and Tokyo.
In Australia, the U.S. president will urge Mr. Abe and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, to work more closely as a stabilizing regional influence, officials said. Canberra and Tokyo have already strengthened military ties in recent times, including a possible 25 billion Australian dollar (US$22 billion) Australian purchase of Japanese submarines.
The so-called trilateral meeting will coincide with a speech by Mr. Obama on U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific that officials say will attempt to quell regional cynicism among other Asian nations about the effectiveness of a U.S. pivot to Asia designed to consolidate its influence on the region.
“Obama’s Brisbane speech is the opportunity to restore confidence in the rebalance,” said Rory Medcalf, an Australian security analyst at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy.
Australia remains a close U.S. military and political ally. But China is an increasingly important economic partner for the resource-rich nation as the Chinese get richer. China’s demand for commodities helped shield Australia from a recession following the 2008 global financial crunch. Messrs. Xi and Abbott are set to sign a free-trade pact following the Group of 20 summit that Australia’s conservative government hopes will provide new drivers for growth as a long mining boom slows, opening up access for Australian banks, universities and legal firms to tap into increased demand for services as China’s middle class grows. It estimates the deal may be worth up to $A20 billion a year to the A$1.5 trillion economy. The deal highlights Australia’s difficult balancing act between its security alliance with Washington and a growing economic reliance on Beijing.