US, UK and Australia say Japan could join part of Aukus pact

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The US, UK and Australia on Monday said they were considering working with Japan on advanced technology projects in the trilateral Aukus security pact aimed at boosting deterrence against China.

The Aukus defence ministers said they would consider bringing Japan into Pillar II, the part of the security pact that focuses on advanced technology, ranging from artificial intelligence and quantum computing to undersea capabilities and hypersonic weapons.

“Recognising Japan’s strengths and its close bilateral defence partnerships with all three countries, we are considering co-operation with Japan on Aukus Pillar II advanced capability projects,” the ministers said in a joint statement. 

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, Australian defence minister Richard Marles and UK defence minister Grant Shapps said the allies were committed to delivering “advanced military capabilities” to their own forces, but added: “We are confident that engaging like-minded partners in the work of Pillar II will only strengthen this pursuit.”

The Financial Times reported over the weekend that the allies would seek a way to recognise Japan’s importance but also take into consideration some reservations about its security and data protection systems.

The three Aukus allies — which along with Canada and New Zealand are members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network — did not invite Japan to join what defence experts had dubbed “Jaukus”. But the statement underscores that the allies hope to work with Japan in the future once Tokyo meets certain conditions.

Some in US President Joe Biden’s administration — including Kurt Campbell, deputy secretary of state, and Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Tokyo — had pushed to add Japan as a Pillar II partner. But Australia and Britain, and some in the US government, argued that it was too early to add a partner, even if Japan is the most important US ally in Asia.

Australia and the UK want to ensure that the three original members can smooth out difficulties in working on highly classified projects that require the sharing of highly secret information. There are also concerns that Japan still has not done enough to ensure it can protect sensitive data.

Speaking at the CNAS think-tank in Washington last week, Campbell said the US was working on development and co-production separately with the UK and Australia but “how we trilateralise some of that over time is challenging”.

Campbell also said the US had been encouraging Japan to implement measures to bolster its security systems to make it easier to share classified information among the allies.

“Japan has taken some of those steps, but not all of them,” he said.

The announcement comes as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida prepares to land in Washington for a summit with Biden that will include a state dinner and a speech to Congress.

The leaders will announce that the US and Japan plan to make the biggest upgrade to their alliance since they signed a mutual defence treaty in 1960. The move is part of the push to boost co-ordination to counter China.

The Aukus members are not considering adding any partners to Pillar I, which is focused on helping Australia get a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the first time. Campbell last week said Australia having nuclear-powered submarines that could work in close co-ordination with other countries and deliver missiles from long distances would be important in the case of a conflict with China over Taiwan.

“Those have enormous implications in a variety of scenarios, including in cross-strait circumstances,” he said.

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