While undertaking infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa provides both sides with a credible humanitarian mission to contribute their respective expertise to (thereby gaining kudos with both the UN and the African Union), the stationing of ADF personnel with the SDF marks the beginning of what will inevitably become a more regular occurrence given the interest of both sides in working together to..."enhance interoperability between the JSDF and the ADF." The inclusion of maritime SDF forces in Exercise Kakadu 2012 (E) serves to reinforce this goal, and is to be applauded. All the signs point towards more regular visits to Australia by the JSDF, which in turn may produce larger scale joint exercises in the future. For example, the creation of a tripartite exercise, with members from each service arm of the US, Japanese, and Australian (and quite possibly South Korean) defence forces working in tandem over a period of two weeks would provide the basis for hereto unprecedented levels of interoperability. It could, in fact, become a substitute for Exercise Talisman Sabre (the ADF's principal joint exercise with the US), and would be politically justifiable given the security ties already shared between all of the participating states. An emphasis on disaster response operations (the reasoning for which has already been applied to the deployment of US Marines to Darwin here) would serve to reinforce the benign nature of the exercise without completely ruling out conventional military training activities. It's worth a shot, at the very least.
The announcement of this joint activity in South Sudan and the up-coming 2+2 meeting in Australia leads me to examine an area of Japan-Australia relations that I have not yet explored, and that is the comparatively poor state of reporting about Japan that occurs in Australia. Japan is Australia's second largest trade export partner, remains the third largest economy in the world, has fostered peaceful, progressive agreements with Australia for over 60 years, has invested in the development of Australia and Australians (re: Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Canon, Mitsui, Nomura, Nissan, not forgetting to mention Nippon Kogyo and energy resource companies) for decades, while Japanese is the most commonly studied Asian language in Australia at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels (much to the chagrin of Indonesia specialists, to be sure). In spite of this, and all of the relevance of Japan to Australia in this the "Asian Century", media networks here would be hard pressed to reveal when they last produced an exclusive on Japan, interviewed Japanese ministers, academics, business leaders, activists, senior bureaucrats, entertainers, indeed anyone from Japan of national significance.
As a case in point, Wednesday morning's total coverage of Japan from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the national, public broadcaster of Australia) consisted of the following article; "Redback bites woman in Japanese nursing home." This appeared to be based on a minor article reported by the Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday afternoon (J) and picked up by the ABC for its novelty value (presumably the tenuous link between the spider involved and Australia). At a time when Japan's political world is undergoing turmoil over defections, re-alignments, up-coming party leader elections (the LDP is set to elect a new leader this month after current leader Tanigaki lost the backing of his own faction earlier in the week (J), not to mention questions of sovereignty and diplomatic clashes with China and South Korea, the seeming indifference of Australia's media to events in Japan borders on negligent. To its credit, the Australian newspaper does keep its Tokyo correspondent Rick Wallace busy summarising reports drawn from AFP, Bloomberg, the WSJ and Reuters while occasionally combining these with his own observations to give his stories an Australian bent. Yet such reports are few and far between, and a single correspondent attempting to cover the entire scope of Japanese political, social, economic, and environmental issues is asking more of the reporter than he can deliver, certainly not without further investment from the newspaper itself.
As such, Australians commonly receive their news about Japan from US and European sources, neither of which have any reason to include Australia's point of view or explain to readers/viewers how events in Japan ultimately affect Australia. The only time Japan is mentioned in detail within the Australian press (with the exception of last year's earthquake and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, which was predominantly reported to Australians via overseas news networks) is in relation to whaling, WWII or, more recently, radiation, all of which carry negative connotations. While child abductions became an item earlier in the year, it hasn't been followed up despite legislation formally signing Japan up to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction being approved by the DPJ for submission to the House of Representatives (J). When Japan is mentioned outside of the above three issues, it is normally in relation to frivolous topics such as crowded pools (E), the quirks of Otaku culture, or highlighting the exotic nature of Japan (from a Western perspective, a never-ending source of inspiration for any Japan correspondent stuck for ideas and pressured by short deadlines and with no interviews on the books).
Mind you, this indifference is reciprocated by Japan as well. Australia virtually never gets a mention in any of the major Japanese media outlets (3 in four months for the Asahi Shimbun), indeed none of the Japanese newspaper dailies appear to have correspondents based in Australia, and reports that are made about Australia in the Japanese press are summaries of English language articles with a small bit of context added by the Japanese reporter in question. If Australia appears on Japanese television news programs, it is in relation to a JAXA initiative to launch rockets from the Woomera test range in South Australia, the TPP, or the introduction of another marsupial to a zoo. While the leadership battle between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd in February this year sparked some interest from media commentators (J), by and large Japan's media outlets ignore Australia or report about it by proxy, and there are no indications that this situation is set to change.
In all honesty, Australia needs to be better informed about its regional partners, for it cannot blithely expect to understand domestic issues in China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, or the Philippines based on the occasional article or broadcast. What occurs in those countries is as important to us as what occurs in Washington, Brussels, London, Paris or Berlin (or New Delhi for that matter), yet the dearth of information from Asia means that the general Australian public, and the politicial representatives of the public are none the wiser as to the concerns of the people of those countries, what inspires and motivates them, what issues they regard as crucial to their interests, and their impressions of Australia. Perhaps as Australia's demography diversifies, the need for wider and more comprehensive coverage of Asia may force Australian media outlets to invest more in establishing branch offices in capitals throughout the region, or else social media will fill the gaps with timely but not necessarily accurate reporting. Whatever does eventually happen, hopefully it will be better than the current state of Australian reporting on Japan which is sorely in need of improvement.