Australian Embassy

Remarks by Ambassador Hayhurst at Asia Society Tokyo, 21 November 2023

Thank you for the invitation to speak today.

I will talk about the structural underpinnings of Australian foreign policy.

I’ll talk for about ten minutes, setting a framework for thinking about our approach. 

For Australia, like any state, having a strategic compass is necessary at this time of churn, disruption, and change. 

Without a sense of direction and purpose, based on strong domestic economic and social foundations, no nation can hope to navigate the disruption that characterises the modern world.

As a general proposition, innovative, outward-looking, cohesive, and well-governed countries with flexible economies can better withstand shocks and enjoy advantages in an interdependent world.  

They support their citizens through periods of change – they can make the necessary investments to protect their security – they make for attractive partners, in economic and security terms.   

Australia is one such nation – committed to using its own strength and influence – or agency - to shape its future.

Not just to seek advantage within the international system but to influence how that system works.

As a former colleague of mine used to say, Australia can’t buy or bully its way in the world.

We need influence, we need partners, and we need effective rules.

Committed to the rule of law, and confident about our own sovereignty, and determined to protect it, we can build partnerships characterised by deep trust and information sharing.

And, the value and impact of our partnerships matter now, more than ever.

They give us reach, scale and influence beyond our own means, allowing Australia to achieve greater strategic effect.   

The opportunities for the partnership between Australia and Japan, specifically, lie in deeper, more integrated cooperation, and policy coordination, whether in defence, foreign policy, energy transition or advanced technology and data. 

But for both nations sustaining influence and securing interests is getting harder because the balance of power and the rules of the system have shifted in ways that render old approaches redundant.

Risks to Australia’s, and Japan’s, interests have intensified in recent years – as has the uncertainty of our strategic and economic outlook.

I have described in other forums how, in Australia’s view, the international order is being reshaped, and the stability of the Indo-Pacific region can no longer be assumed.

We know that the world we live in looks different and requires new thinking and joint action to influence. 

China’s growing power, weight and reach is the biggest and most consequential change, and it is still unfolding. 

We now face a contested environment, in which democracies like Japan and Australia work together and with others to support an alternative vision of the regional and global order to that pursued by China and its closest partner, Russia.

It’s a competition over power, values, rules, supply chains, and the technologies that link countries and economies. 

Australia has decided to approach the moment with ambition and activism.

A similar description – of the ambitious and active use of power, networks, and influence - appears true for Japan in recent years.

It was true of the leadership of Prime Minister Abe, and remains true of the Kishida Government, as we have seen with Japan’s chairing of the G7 this year and its strategic rapprochement with the Republic of Korea.

If you don’t like the creeping normalisation of a might is right approach – including in the maritime domain – then you need to act in support of international law, and help other nations understand and protect their own rights.

We need to counter military intimidation, economic coercion and disinformation.

Peace and stability are not natural and permanent conditions.

They rely on:

  • reassurance – so regional states can be confident countries will not act unilaterally or with force to change the status quo.
  • communication: reliable channels to reduce or minimise the risk of miscalculation.
  • transparency: measures to build confidence and reduce risk, such as through arms control.
  • rules: to help keep the peace, and ensure competition doesn’t lead to conflict.
  • and, deterrence: so that we avoid a situation in the Indo-Pacific in which any country thinks that they can dominate another by the use of force or coercion.

In the words of Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong: ‘we must ensure that no state ever concludes that the benefits of conflict outweigh the risks’.

For Australia, and I believe for Japan, our policy aims for strategic balance where reassurance through diplomacy is underwritten by military deterrence.

That is why Australia is undertaking the largest single defence capability uplift in its history to deliver nuclear-powered submarines in partnership with the United States and United Kingdom.

This is a proportionate and responsible increase in military capability that reflects the extent and complexity of Australia’s maritime interests in a deteriorating security environment.

Australia has the world’s third largest EEZ, and our maritime domain covers ten per cent of the earth’s surface.

More than 80 per cent of our goods trade transits through our maritime domain.

We need credible maritime capabilities to protect our interests.

Our connections to the world by sea are fundamental to our security, and they link Australia to Japan as its most important energy partner.   

In terms of its strategic approach, Japan is a model and a regional leader, even allowing for its unique legal and historic circumstances.

It is pursuing a record defence spend, a transformation in systems and readiness within a Free and Open Indo-Pacific policy that focuses on support for international law and connectivity.

In this strategy, economic cooperation is as important as defence capabilities.

That is a view Australia shares.

You need both, one to deliver development and opportunity, the other to guard against, that is to deter, conflict and aggression.  

Australia and Japan share an interest both in the balance of power and in the principles by which power is exercised so we can create an open regional order, that has China prominent but not dominant.

To deliver a world where the rules – whether they govern trade or the maritime domain, or the environment or military engagement – are clear, mutually negotiated and consistently followed.

To that end, Australia and Japan are in a foreign policy partnership to shape, build and connect.

To implement our 2022 Joint Security Declaration and its commitments to an open, secure maritime domain, to international rules, to deterring aggression and its statement that:

We will consult each other on contingencies that may affect our sovereignty and regional security interests, and consider measures in response.

This agenda will require integrating systems and policies between Australia and Japan, as well as developing greater levels of interoperability, including pursuing opportunities for joint exercises and shared capability development.

Our respective goals won’t be achieved without greater strategic coordination.

For Australia, key priorities like our agendas:

  • to promote the security and resilience of our Pacific islands partners
  • to work with Southeast Asia on the energy transition, and
  • to support the strongest possible US engagement in regional affairs are reinforced – to say the least - by Japan’s own contributions.   

At the same time, Australia is, like Japan, keeping lines of communication open to China while building resilience.

We cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must, and act in the national interest.

Like Japan, we recognise the reality of co-existence and inter-dependence with China.

We must manage the strategic complexities we face, and Australia and Japan can do this more effectively in partnership.

You can see some of this in the Pacific, on joint financing for telecommunications, but it is obvious in other ways and in other parts of the world.

To meet the moment, Australia and Japan are building a partnership that brings strategic complementarity to equal prominence to our longstanding economic complementarity.

In economic terms, Australia’s energy and food, critical minerals, expertise in medical science, combining with Japan’s capital, custom and technology.

In strategic terms, our respective geographies, alliances, and partnerships – and, over time, our defence industries - make us greater than the sum of our parts. 

In Australia’s words, we aim for a strategic equilibrium.

We know we need an active and strong Japan to achieve this aim. 

As well as the effort of others, from our Ally, the United States, to other partners across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

I look forward to our discussion.