Japan, Australia eye closer cooperation over China, N. Korea

The foreign ministers of Japan and Australia agreed Monday to work closely in tackling the issues of maritime security in the South China Sea as well as North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs as they met on the sidelines of ASEAN-related meetings in Brunei.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr during their 30-minute talks that Tokyo is ready to strengthen economic ties with Australia by forging bilateral and regional free trade agreements, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

With Japan set to join negotiations for the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework in late July, Carr said Australia, already a member of the talks, is looking forward to Japan's participation.

The foreign ministers also vowed to bolster cooperation in security and defense between Japan and Australia, in cooperation with their common ally the United States, and work together under the Non-Proliferation Disarmament Initiative, which was launched by Japan and Australia in 2010.

Amid concern over China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and is believed to be rich in natural resources, the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China agreed Sunday to start official "consultations" in September on a binding code of conduct.

Tensions have heightened between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea since the Japanese government purchased three of the five main islands in the group, administered by Japan but claimed by China.

Over the past two days, Kishida has met with various foreign ministers on the fringes of the ASEAN meetings in an apparent bid to deepen ties in the region where China has more influence than before.

Japanese aid has mainly focused on developing basic infrastructure in the ASEAN members that are hoping to integrate their political, economic, and social spheres to create an ASEAN Community by 2015.

In addition to cooperation in infrastructure-building, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman called for more Japanese companies to venture into the Southeast Asian nation.

Kishida noted the importance of strengthening bilateral ties through an enhanced partnership that builds on Malaysia's "Look East Policy" and said Tokyo is willing to help develop human resources by accepting young people from Malaysia, the Foreign Ministry said.

Malaysia established the policy in the 1980s to learn from Japan's work ethic and business skills, and acquire technology.

Anifah expressed hope that Japan and Malaysia will boost private-sector exchanges and thanked Kishida for Tokyo's support measures including a visa-waiver program for tourists.

In another meeting, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said there was room for further cooperation with Japan in the field of energy, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

As Japan depends on foreign countries for energy, Kishida expressed hope that Canada will become an exporter of stable and low-priced liquefied natural gas to Japan at an early date by developing the necessary infrastructure, the ministry said.