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Introduction: 'Australia has no greater friend in Asia than Japan'

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In 2006, Australia and Japan celebrated the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Australia and Japan 1976 (Japan). The treaty promoted mutual understanding and exchange for the benefit of both countries. The treaty was a turning point in Australian-Japanese relations, which had been dominated by hostility and suspicion since 1901. Quoting Prime Minister Howard in a speech in 2006, Minister for Trade Warren Truss said 'Australia has no greater friend in Asia than Japan'.

Today, the Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Australia and Japan 1976 (Japan) symbolises the nature of Australian-Japanese relations. Australia and Japan have a strong economic, political and military relationship. Australia and Japan also benefit from cultural exchange in tourism and education. Increased familiarity between the two cultures has allowed friendly relations to develop.

Despite the mutual cooperation that characterises Australian-Japanese relations, the two countries disagree on the issues of whaling and climate change. These disagreements do not, however, threaten the stability of Australian-Japanese relations.

Economic relations

Japan has the second-largest economy in the world. This economy depends upon Australian exports. Japan is Australia's largest export market, purchasing almost 20 percent of Australia's total exports.

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Japan is an island nation which lacks natural resources such as iron ore, coal and natural gas. Japan also imports Australian fishery and agricultural products including tuna, wheat and beef. Over 90 percent of Japan's beef comes from Australia.

Although Japan depends upon Australia for natural resources, Australia's dependence on Japan is not as great. Japan is Australia's third largest import market. Japanese products account for only 11 percent of Australia's total imports. Japanese imports include cars, machinery, electrical goods and manufactured products.

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In 2000, Australia's investments in Japan totalled AUD $340 million, a low figure when compared with the USA's $90 billion investment. Australia has a sizeable trade surplus with Japan, which means that the total of goods exported exceeds the total of goods imported. In 2005, Australia's trade surplus with Japan was AUD $11 billion.

Australian businesses continue to invest in Japan. Australian companies are constructing ski resorts in Hokkaido, a popular destination for Australian travellers.

Political and military relations

In World War II, Australia and Japan were fierce adversaries (enemies). Today, the two countries have peaceful political and military relations and work together to help maintain security in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Units from the Japanese Self-Defence Force and the Australian Defence Force are currently serving in Iraq. Japanese and Australian soldiers help maintain security. Japanese engineers help to reconstruct infrastructure.

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Australian, Japanese and American foreign ministers met at the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue in March 2006 to discuss peacekeeping and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan and Australia have important roles to play in maintaining stability in East Timor.

Both Australia and Japan are members of a number of international institutions, such as the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the G8.

Cultural relations

Australian and Japanese relations benefit from cultural exchange and tourism. Over 700 000 Japanese visit Australia and over 200 000 Australians visit Japan per year. Tourism has helped Japanese and Australians to learn about the culture and history of both countries. Australia has a greater familiarity with Japanese culture and food and vice versa.

Cooperation extends to education. Over 380 000 Australian students study the Japanese language per year. Around 10 000 Japanese students travel to Australia to study in Australian educational institutions each year.

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Cultural exchange has been encouraged by the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). This programme is run by the Japanese Government. Every year, 200 Australians travel to Japan to teach English in junior and senior high schools. JET is one of the most successful educational and cultural exchange programmes between Australia and Japan.

Relationship problems: whaling and climate change

The two major points of contention between Australia and Japan deal with the environment.

The Japanese government has pushed a return to commercial whaling, despite a moratorium (temporary suspension) imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Japan argues that whaling is conducted as part of a scientific research programme, vital to improving our understanding of whales. Australia disagrees with Japan's stance on whaling and argues that methods of killing whales are inhumane and cruel. The whaling debate is discussed at the IWC where Japan and Australia put their arguments for and against whaling.

Australia and Japan also disagree on strategies to help stop climate change. Australia and Japan are both active members of international commissions on climate change. The Japanese government introduced the Kyoto Protocol in February 2005. The Protocol proposed to help ease climate change by limiting global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Australian Government refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The government does not believe that the terms of the Protocol provide an effective framework for meeting long-term objectives. The Australian Government believes that other long-term strategies should be used to address climate change.

Japan's stance on whaling and Australia's stance on the Kyoto Protocol are two points of contention in their otherwise peaceful relations.

Japan and Australia enjoy mutually beneficial and co-operative relations. Further diplomatic talks may help to resolve their current disagreements and open new areas for Australian-Japanese relations.


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