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Eyeing China, US and Australia invite Japan into three-way troop rotations

The United States and Australia have said they would welcome Japanese troops into three-way rotations, vowing a united front in the face of China’s rapid military advances.

Australia’s defence and foreign ministers said on Tuesday they agreed to step up the pace of military interactions with the United States during talks with their counterparts in Washington, after which they will fly to Tokyo.

“It’s really important that we are doing this from the point of view of providing balance within our region and involving other countries within our region, and we look forward to being able to have more engagement with Japan,” Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles told a news conference.

“We can go to Japan at the end of this week with an invitation for Japan to be participating in more exercises with Australia and the United States,” said Marles, in the first such talks since Australia’s Labor government took office six months ago.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the allies would seek Japanese participation in joint operations in Australia, where the United States has been rotating Marines since 2011 through Darwin, the strategic northern city struck by imperial Japan in World War II.

Austin said the United States and Australia agreed to increase rotations of bomber task forces, fighter jets and the US Army and Navy.

United States is planning to deploy up to six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to an air base in northern Australia, a source familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency in October.

“We agreed to enhance trilateral defence cooperation and to invite Japan to integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia,” Austin said.

Japan, a treaty-bound ally of the United States, has recently sought growing diplomatic cooperation with Australia, but defence ties have been more sensitive due to Tokyo’s official pacificism since its defeat in World War II.

Warning to China

The three countries have increasingly seen a common cause due to the growing assertiveness of China under President Xi Jinping.

“China’s dangerous and coercive actions throughout the Indo-Pacific [Asia-Pacific], including around Taiwan, toward the Pacific Island countries, and in the East and South China Seas, threaten regional peace and stability,” Austin alleged.

With an eye on China, Australia last year entered a three-way security pact with the United States and Britain to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, angering France, whose sale of conventional submarines was scrapped.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Australians that the United States was committed to “delivering on that promise at the earliest possible time.”

The defence ties come despite a relative easing of tensions between the United States and China, with Blinken set early next year to pay the first visit by a top US diplomat to Beijing in more than four years.

His trip comes after President Joe Biden met Xi in Bali in November, and the two pledged to talk through key differences.

Key among them is Taiwan, the island that China calls its breakaway province and responded furiously in August when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited.

‘No change to status quo’

Earlier on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Australian lawmakers visited the island despite warnings from Beijing.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in Washington that there should be “no unilateral change to the status quo” over Taiwan and that Canberra valued “our longstanding unofficial relationship with Taiwan.”

The United States, Japan and Australia have also worked together in recent years through the so-called Quad with India, which has been more hesitant than the other three about appearing to form an alliance aimed at China.

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