8th Australia-Japan Conference


Speech, E&OE, check against delivery

1 March 2013


It's good to be with you.

The Australia-Japan Conference is a very useful initiative – one of a handful of Australian non-government leadership dialogues.

It reminds us that good policy advice isn't exclusively the realm of governments.

The Asian Century

We talk a lot these days about the unprecedented scale and pace by which the Asian region is growing.

A region that by 2030 will be home to the largest middle class the world has ever seen.

And by 2025 will include four of the world's ten richest economies.

But we should not forget how it all began.

The Asian Century has its roots in the 1950s when Japan emerged from the rubble of the Second World War to rapidly become the economic powerhouse of the region.

Its GDP grew by more than 9 per cent every year from 1953 to 1965, which is the same sort of growth level that China is now experiencing.

Japan's rise last century to become the second largest economy in the world is one of the great growth stories of our time.

It made the world take notice of the Asian region and its potential within the global economy.

And importantly, as Japan's economy grew during the 1970s and 1980s, the country promoted economic growth in the wider Asian region – laying the foundations for the incredible growth story that we are witnessing this century.

Australians have done a lot of reflecting and thinking recently about Australia's place in the Asian Century.

The Australian Government gave it the utmost priority, commissioning a White Paper to consider what more can be done to better position Australia as the region continues to grow.

The document looks to the future – the year 2025 – and sets a series of national targets that will help Australia better integrate with our region.

The Australia-Japan partnership and the White Paper

The White Paper identified Japan, China, India, Indonesia and South Korea as key regional partners that Australia would like to build more comprehensive relationships with.

Of these, Australia's partnership with Japan was recognised as the "closest and most mature in the region and a template for our wider engagement with Asia."

Just as the Asian growth story has its roots in Japan's own growth story, Australia's modern engagement with Asia has its origins in the Australia-Japan partnership of the last half century.

Our earliest interactions were in business, with Japan becoming a major consumer of Australian wool from the 1920s.

Following World War II our nations' leaders were determined to build a strong partnership.

We could both see each other's potential.

The 1957 Commerce Agreement laid the foundations for our modern trading relationship.

In 1966-67, Japan overtook the United Kingdom to become our biggest export market.

In 1970-71, Japan became Australia's largest trading partner – where it stayed for the following 36 years.

Australian exports helped fuel Japan's rise to become one of the world's great industrial nations. Commercial interests may have formed the basis of our relationship but our relationship has broadened over the years so that we work closely in all areas of international cooperation.

Geographically and culturally, our two countries may be very different.

But more deeply we are staunch advocates of democracy, the rule of law and we are both committed to good global citizenship.

Our close cooperation in global and regional institutions is testament to this:

  • Providing leadership in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
  • Working together to strengthen international cooperation on climate change.
  • Helping boost the multilateral trading system through the World Trade Organization.
  • Working towards greater international cooperation on the global economy within the G20.
  • Working on UN reform – where Australia supports Japanese permanent membership of the UNSC.

And closer to home: working to develop regional norms to enhance regional security and stability.

A shared perspective on international security challenges has helped build a robust defence and security relationship.

We now have annual 2+2 talks between foreign and defence ministers.

Our defence forces regularly train and conduct joint exercises together.

We are working together more often in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

And we share a strong history of working together in UN peacekeeping missions.

Unfortunately only two months into 2013, we've been reminded of the threats to peace and security in our region and beyond.

The Australian Government condemns in the strongest possible terms nuclear testing by North Korea.

As a current member of the UN Security Council, Australia is working with Council members and others, including the US, South Korea and Japan to work on the strongest possible response to North Korea's continuing defiance.

January's hostage crisis in Algeria also reminded us of the complexity of the global security environment.

I'd like to pass on our condolences for the loss of 10 Japanese civilians during the crisis.

It was a horrible reminder of the need for greater international cooperation in counter-terrorism and we see scope for greater cooperation between our two countries.

The future of the Australia-Japan relationship

The people of Australia and Japan have a particularly strong connection.

75,000 people of Japanese descent live in Australia.

Japanese is already the most widely studied Asian language in Australia.

And Japan is the fifth most popular destination for Australian students.

It's a connection that was never more evident than in the outpouring of sympathy in Australia following the 2011 Japanese Tsunami.

The Australian government wants to boost our country's Asia literacy, particularly in languages, with Japanese along with Mandarin, Indonesian and Hindi designated our priority languages of study.

A new Japanese language curriculum will be developed.

And we think there is a lot we could learn from Japan's very successful JET program, as we seek to strengthen our language teaching capacity in Australian schools.

For Australia to be increasingly engaged with Japan and Asia more broadly, we need to raise the skills and the literacy of our young people to better understand our region.

But this alone is not enough.

I believe business and governments need to think more creatively about how we can create better career paths for our young people, particularly those who make the effort to develop Asian literacy and language skills.

So we begin 2013 with a renewed vigour in our economic relationship.

Australia supports the Abe government's commitment to Japan's economic revitalisation.

It would be foolish to think that Japan will somehow recede from being one of the major players in the world economy in any of our lifetimes.

And we welcome Prime Minister Abe's recent declaration in the US that "Japan is back".

Australia and Japan are in the process of taking our economic relationship to the next level through negotiating a Free Trade Agreement.

Importantly for Japan, an FTA would serve to further secure Australia as a reliable supplier of energy.

An FTA would further integrate Australia more closely with the Japanese market.

It would maximise Japan's competitiveness in the Australian market as a supplier of automobiles and manufactured goods.

There are also significant opportunities for Australian and Japanese firms to increase the bilateral trade in services, which now account for three quarters of our respective economies.

It would support investment in each other's economies.

It would also serve to further encourage Japanese and Australian companies to work together in third country markets across the region – particularly through global supply chains.


For more than half a century, Australia has recognised Japan's important place in the Asia growth story.

Shared values also matter.

As two great Asia-Pacific democracies, we are natural partners in the region and in world affairs.

This is why we are keen to push our economic and security partnership as well as our close cooperation in global and regional institutions even further.

And it's why Australia wants to build our community's knowledge and understanding of Japanese language and culture.

We also welcome Japan's moves to strengthen our relationship and we were particularly honoured to receive Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to Australia on his first trip overseas as Foreign Minister.

The future is incredibly bright for our region in this Asian Century.

So too is the future of the partnership between Australia and Japan.

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