TOKYO, June 6 (Reuters) - Australian Defence Minister David Johnston will tour a Japanese stealth submarine when he visits Tokyo next week, his Japanese counterpart said on Friday, ahead of talks that could cement an agreement to cooperate in arms development.
“We are planning to show Minister Johnston various military equipment including submarines,” Itsunori Onodera told a news conference. “We want to build a more cooperative relationship with Australia.”
Johnston will be the first foreign defence minister to tour the highly sensitive craft, a ministry spokesman said.
Johnston and Onodera will discuss cooperation next Wednesday in meetings that will include both foreign ministers.
The talks could yield an agreement similar to a deal struck between Japan and Britain last year that created a legal framework for closer cooperation on defence and security, Japanese officials close to the talks said.
Such a framework could pave the way for a pact for Japan to supply submarine technology and designs to Australia.
The meeting follows moves by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government in April to ease decades-old curbs on military exports. This spurred officials in Japan and Australia to accelerate discussions, sources in both countries have said.
An agreement could give Australia access to technology developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries to help in the planned building of a $37 billion fleet of stealth submarines to extend Canberra’s maritime reach deep into the Indian Ocean.
Japan in return would secure closer security ties with Australia as Abe seeks stronger links with friendly Asia-Pacific nations to counter China’s military buildup. (Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo in Tokyo; Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Ron Popeski)