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‘Natural’ for Japan to play larger Aukus role amid China threat, but likely not as partner

Australia’s defence minister has said Canberra is keen for Tokyo to play a larger role in the development of defence technology under the Aukus security partnership, but he stopped short of suggesting Japan should join a pact that presently brings together Australia, Britain and the United States.

Analysts said while Japan’s bilateral relationship with Australia and multilateral ties with Aukus had undoubtedly drawn closer in recent years amid tensions with Beijing, Tokyo was unlikely to become a member in the foreseeable future because of complications in the sharing of nuclear information.

“What defence minister [Marles] is rightly saying is that the Australia-Japan security partnership has developed and become clearer, and there is a desire for deeper cooperation,” said Ben Ascione, an assistant professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Waseda University.

“I think it is natural that we would be talking about a greater level of cooperation between the three countries – the US, UK and Australia – and Japan, in terms of joint collaborations,” Marles said.

Ascione from Waseda University said: “I do not think there is any intention to engage Japan in what is known as the ‘first pillar’ of Aukus, which is the delivery of nuclear submarine technology to Australia by the US and UK, because it would be very difficult to convince them to release that technology to another country, while there are also domestic constraints in Japan on nuclear technology.

“But there appear to be growing opportunities to cooperate beyond the ‘first pillar’, on artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles and elsewhere.”

The move would align with Japan’s plans to develop a missile counterstrike capability, such as the purchase of Tomahawk cruise