DARWIN, Australia — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a historic visit to Darwin on Friday, some 75 years after Japan bombed the northern Australian city, as the two countries cement ties in the face of emergent China.
Trade and closer defence ties will be the centrepieces of Abe’s two-day visit and meetings with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, before the two leaders travel to PNG for the weekend APEC summit.
Abe will be the first Japanese leader to visit the northern Australia port city, where more than 250 people were killed during multiple Japanese bombing raids in 1942-43 during World War II -- the worst foreign attacks ever on the country.
Abe and Morrison are scheduled to pay their respects at memorials to the war dead in an act reminiscent of the Japanese leader’s visit to Pearl Harbor in 2016.
"Prime Minister Abe’s visit is deeply symbolic and significant and it will build on our two countries’ strong and enduring friendship as well as our economic, security, community and historical ties," Morrison said in a statement.
The Japanese leader will also attend a ceremony marking the opening of the US$34 billion Ichthys LNG pipeline project, in which Japan’s Inpex is the majority shareholder and operator and which began shipping natural gas to Japan last month.
It is Japan’s largest overseas investment and will reinforce Australia’s position as that country’s main energy supplier. The operation taps fields off Australia’s northern coast and pipes the gas nearly 900km (550 miles) to a port near Darwin.
Australian officials said Friday’s discussions would include ongoing efforts to reach agreement on enhanced defence cooperation, including regular joint military exercises.
That effort reflects the desire of both countries to expand their involvement across the Pacific to counter increased Chinese military and economic activity in the region.
Japan and Australia played leading roles in reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after President Donald Trump withdrew US support for the agreement.
Canberra and Tokyo also both recently launched Pacific infrastructure projects to offer alternatives to Beijing’s so-called Belt and Road initiative, which has seen China pour billions of dollars of investment into the area.
The regional competition will be on full view on Friday as Abe’s Darwin visit coincides with a mini-summit organised by Chinese President Xi Jinping with seven Pacific island leaders in Papua New Guinea ahead of the APEC conference. — AFP