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China looms large as Marles begins Japan defence talks

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Defence Minister Richard Marles has described Australia's relationship with Japan as essential for confronting China's rising power as he began talks in Tokyo today.

Marles told Today there were few more important allies than Japan for Australia.

"We're building this relationship with Japan on its own terms and it's never been more important," he said.

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"China is seeking to shape the world around it in a way that it has not done before. That makes our strategic circumstances complex.

"Both Japan and Australia are allies of the United States. We both have an interest in keeping the United States as engaged as possible within East Asia … I can't really think of a more important relationship that we have really than that of Japan."

Marles is expected to discuss closer co-operation between Australian and Japanese military forces in his meeting with Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi.

Officials have flagged Australia and Japan holding joint military missions and Marles also hinted at more visits by Japanese military units to Australia.

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Japan, like Australia, is concerned by growing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea.

Marles says the "door is open" to improving Australia-China relations after he met his Chinese counterpart earlier this week.

He said he had a "full and frank discussion" with Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday but cautioned it would be a "slow process' in improving relations, including the ending of Chinese trade bans on Australia exports.

"It was an important meeting but I think it is also important to understand this is just the first step and there's a long way to go. Making sure that our two countries are talking is critically important.

"With both of us the feeling that we wanted … was to get the relationship, the broader bilateral relationship, the broader bilateral relationship, to a better place.

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"The door is open now for us to move further down this path. It's going to be a slow process."

Meanwhile, five Royal Australian Navy ships will depart Australia over the next three weeks for regional deployments throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

The Defence Department said HMAS Canberra, Waramunga and Supply will take part in Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2022 around the Hawaiian islands.

HMAS Sydney and Perth, supported by HMAS Supply, will work with regional partners.



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