diggers to play war with japan

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    Diggers to play war with Japan
    By John Kerin and Peter Alford
    December 11, 2004

    JAPANESE troops could soon be training with Diggers on Australian soil for the first time as part of a move to forge closer military ties.

    Risk ... allowing Japanese troops to train in Australia would be viewed dimly by trade partner China.

    Australian and Japanese defence officials have discussed the proposed war games as Tokyo yesterday took a historic step away from its post-war pacifist stance, ending a decades-old ban on military exports, and adopting a more aggressive defence and counter-terrorism posture.

    Although only in the early stages, the contentious military training talks, which have not reached ministerial level, are certain to divide war veterans and others in the community.

    It could also pose problems for Canberra's burgeoning relationship with China - including the pursuit of a free trade deal - given ongoing tensions between Beijing and Tokyo. As part of Japan's new military expansion, Tokyo has instructed its defence planners to regard China and North Korea as potential threats.

    Allowing Japanese troops to train in Australia would be viewed dimly by China, which is likely to become Australia's biggest trading partner over the next decade.

    Defence Minister Robert Hill's office said yesterday it was unaware of any approach by Tokyo. But Senator Hill believes "participation in exercises" is one of the ways of deepening the Australia-Japan relationship.

    Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also said last night that the Japanese Government had not made any formal approach.

    "But I suppose (if it were raised) there would be some community sensitivity," Mr Downer said.

    Veteran Perce Curvey, 87, a World War II survivor who spent three years and eight months as a war prisoner, told The Weekend Australian yesterday that the training exercises would be an insult to the memory of the the thousands of POWs who died.

    "There is a move afoot amongst some ex-POWs to forget and forgive," he said.

    "Well, I can't forget and I can't forgive, because what the Japanese did to us was brutal and totally unnecessary."

    A memorandum of understanding signed by the Australian and Japanese defence ministers in Canberra in September last year, which has been made public only in the past fortnight, commits both countries to exploring "new areas of co-operation for promoting and deepening Australia-Japan defence exchange".

    The two countries already have strong intelligence and counter-terrorism ties - particularly in dealing with the nuclear threat posed by North Korea - and are also involved in naval and air exercises and unit to unit exchanges.

    Military expert Alan Dupont, a senior research fellow at the Sydney based Lowy Institute who has just completed a pivotal study on Japan's expected re-emergence as a defence power in the Pacific, predicted yesterday that joint land training exercises were "the next logical step in defence co-operation between the two countries".

    "There are already extensive intelligence and counter-terrorism ties, military personnel exchanges and joint naval and air exchanges so it wouldn't be such a big step," Dr Dupont told The Weekend Australian.

    "Of course, it would have to be handled sensitively ... particularly in reassuring the Chinese that any closer defence co-operation was about training and exercises," he said.

    Dr Dupont said Japan could seek to follow the example of the US and Singapore, which bring or store equipment in Australia and are involved in regular military exercises.

    Japanese units over the past two years have undertaken urban warfare and artillery training alongside US troops in Hawaii. Maritime Self-Defence Forces earlier this year joined US, Australian and other navies in large-scale war games off Hawaii.

    Japan and Australia have also co-operated in naval exercises as part of the US-backed Proliferation Security Initiative a naval and air program involving up to 60 nations in devising ways to intercept rogue states' weapons of mass destruction shipments.

    Japan's Koizumi Government is moving to fundamentally change the Self Defence Forces' role from home defence under the 57-year-old war-renouncing constitution to undertake "normal" military operations, including armed peace-keeping and collective self-defence with the US and other allies.

    The process took a major step forward yesterday with the Japanese cabinet's approval of a new defence policy framework for the next five years.

    The National Defence Policy Outline moves Japan's ballistic missile defence project with the US into the development stage, allows limited military exports, and calls for a restructuring of the Ground Self-Defence Force - Japan's army - to enhance mobility, anti-terrorist capacity and cooperation with allied forces.

    A spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Australia said yesterday Minister of State for Defence, Yoshinori Ono, was scheduled to visit Australia early next year for talks with Senator Hill.

    He said it was not clear what would be on the agenda at this stage.

    But any plan for joint military exercises could prove a difficult to negotiate.

    RSL national president Major-General Bill Crews yesterday said it may not be as contentious an issue for Australia as it once would have been.

    While many war veterans and former POWs had "long memories about World War II", he said "the world has moved on".

    "No doubt some of our members will have problems (if the Japanese train here) but it's been nearly 60 years since the war. Japan is now a vibrant democracy with close political economic and development ties with Australia."

    But a World War Two veteran who was a Japanese POW on the Burma Railway, Bill Haskell, 84, told The Weekend Australian he'd "prefer the Japanese didn't train here".

    "I don't think there'd be a (former Japanese) POW in Australia who would feel otherwise," the veteran, who lost mates at the infamous Hellfire Pass, said last night.

    "They did all right in the last war without us and they'll do all right in this one (the war on terror)," he said.

    Mr Curvey, of Brisbane, was captured by the Japanese in Timor in February 1942 and was a prisoner in Java, Singapore, on the infamous Thailand-Burma railway and finally in Japan.

    "I've got no time at all for the Japanese," he said. "In fact, I still hate them.

    "You had to be there to understand how brutal, callous and totally unnecessary it was."

    "We would want to give any approach very careful consideration," he said.

    A spokesman for the Japan Defence Agency said yesterday he was unaware of any discussions about Japanese forces exercising in northern Australia.

    Additional reporting: Kevin Meade

    The Australian


    I know a few WW11 vets who will not be too keen on the idea.

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