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Manufacturing partners: Japan–South Korea security cooperation and Australia's potential role

By Hayley Channer

In Asia, Australia has no closer strategic and ideological partners than Japan and South Korea. Our similar strategic outlooks, economic ties, alliances with the US and liberal democratic values make us highly compatible partners. But while Australia’s bilateral relations are trending upwards, the Japan–ROK relationship has been spiralling downwards.

Problems in Japan–ROK relations are nothing new, but since two bilateral military accords fell through in mid-2012 the relationship has deteriorated to its lowest point in decades. It’s becoming apparent that the two countries could benefit from outside intervention to facilitate deeper cooperation.

Australia is emerging as a potentially effective facilitator of Japan–ROK security cooperation. Australia could ‘manufacture’ a closer security partnership between the two and achieve multiple strategic objectives through trilateral security cooperation.

This paper identifies how Australia fits into Japan–ROK cooperation, the merits and pitfalls of trilateral security cooperation, and whether it’s in Australia’s interests to pursue such an initiative. It draws on over thirty interviews with Japanese, South Korean and Australian specialists, media coverage, alliance theory, and academic analysis to provide recommendations to the government on how Australia can take a more proactive role in developing relations with and between Tokyo and Seoul and tackling regional security challenges.