China cautions Australia over defense cooperation with Japan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged Australia on Wednesday to take into account the feelings of Asian countries as Sydney contemplates buying a fleet of submarines from Japan in a deal worth as much as A$40 billion ($29 billion).

Slideshow ( 3 images )

In some of his strongest remarks on the possible deal, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Australia should consider the context of Japan’s role in the Second World War in developing its military relationship with Tokyo.

Wang made the remarks to journalists during a joint briefing with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“We hope that in military cooperation with Japan, Australia will take into full account this historical context and take into consideration also the feelings of Asian countries because of that history,” Wang said.

“We hope that Australia will take concrete actions to support the peaceful development of Japan and Japan’s efforts to uphold its pacifist constitution and not the opposite.”

Australia will pick the design for a new fleet of submarines this year. Japan, which is offering a variant of its 4,000 ton Soryu submarine, is up against rival bids from Germany and France.

Washington is encouraging closer security cooperation between Japan and Australia as it looks to its Pacific allies to shoulder a bigger security role, with China’s rise altering the balance of power in the region.

Tension between Asia’s two largest economies has risen over what China sees as Japan’s failure to properly atone for its wartime past, as well as a long-standing territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Bishop arrived in Beijing on Tuesday after visiting Tokyo. Australia is seeking to deepen economic ties with China, its largest trading partner.

Bishop said Japan was only one of the possible partners and a “comprehensive evaluation process” of a submarine deal would assess if it met Australia’s capability and technological requirements.

“That is what will drive the competitive evaluation process that is currently underway,” she added.

Asked about Wang’s comments on taking into consideration the feelings of the people of Asia before embarking upon military cooperation with Japan, Bishop said Australia had “moved on”.

She added, “In terms of the historical context, Australia has moved on. We moved on many years ago, in relation to both Germany and Japan, and the submarine competitive evaluation process will be focused on capability.”

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Writing by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Clarence Fernandez