Japanese troops could conduct military exercises out of Darwin later this year — almost 76 years after Japan’s air force bombed the city in World War II.
The historic move could come as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe look to tighten military ties between Canberra and Tokyo under the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear program.
The exercises will be a topic of discussion between Mr Turnbull and Prime Minister Abe, after the Australian leader landed in Tokyo today for annual leader talks.
In a sign of how far the relationship between the countries has progressed since the end of World War II, the leaders are set to bond over blast-resistant military vehicles made in country Victoria.
Mr Turnbull is expected to visit a Japanese Self Defence Forces base outside of Tokyo, where he’ll inspect Bushmaster vehicles, made by Thales in Bendigo.
Japan has already purchased four Bushmasters and four more have been ordered — representing Canberra’s biggest defence export to Tokyo.
During the visit, Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe are likely to make progress on finalising a “visiting forces agreement” which will be signed later this year. The agreement sets out the legal status for military personnel visits, moving equipment and weapons.
Under the deal Japanese troops could conduct exercises out of Darwin.
The Bombing of Darwin on February 19, 1942 was the largest ever attack on Australia. In two separate raids more than 240 carrier-borne aircraft attacked the city’s harbour and two airfields: 236 people were killed, around 400 wounded, with 30 aircraft destroyed and 11 vessels sunk.
NORTH KOREA’S NUCLEAR THREAT TO JAPAN
North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is also expected to be canvassed during the bilateral meeting.
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles over Japan last year.
Mr Turnbull is adamant economic sanctions remain the best prospect for a peaceful resolution of tension on the Korean peninsula in the near term.
“Those economic sanctions are starting to bite,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Geelong on Wednesday ahead of the visit.
Trade and investment are also a key focus of the trip.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Abe have been champions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which was thrust into limbo when President Donald Trump withdrew the US.
There were hopes the agreement could be revived at the Asia Pacific Economic Co- operation summit in Vietnam last year, without the US.
However, Canada threw a spanner in the works at the last moment when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to show up to a critical meeting.
“I’m hopeful that the work that our officials are doing, that we can get Canada … to the finish line, in the not too distant future,” Trade Minister Steve Ciobo told ABC Radio on Wednesday.
But getting Canada to return to the TPP party just got more difficult as Canberra uncorks a wine war with Ottawa.