The visit has produced two ends, each auspicious in their intent and ambitious in their scope. Both Australia and Japan have signed an upgrade to the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) originally signed back in 2010, which will allow both the SDF and ADF to exchange armaments and ammunition should they be deployed together, and which paves the way towards further joint exercises and exchanges between both defence forces. This is not a moment too soon, given the current state of affairs in the security of the region, but it is also welcome because until now, whenever the SDF wished to conduct exercises in Australia, it had to go through a swathe of bureaucracy much of which appeared designed to hamper rather than promote such exercises.
The other consequence of the visit was a mutual recognition by both leaders of the importance of the TPP and RCEP to the promotion of free trade and the greater liberalisation of commerce. PM Abe has often stated that the TPP is the lynchpin for stability in the region, for it would combine all of the major economies of the Asia Pacific, save that of China, India and Russia, into one large tariff free zone, so that each nation would be obliged to work together to ensure shared prosperity. It would also demonstrate that the US is committed to remaining an economic force (and by default a military force) in the Asia Pacific, which for Japan is a crucial matter given the importance of the US to Japan's security.
But the election of Donald Trump threw all of that ambition into the shadows, for if the president elect does not support the TPP, then what hope does it have without the US? PM Abe himself expressed his doubts in the immediate aftermath of the US presidential election, however subsequent debate on the matter may have convinced him that there is still life in the TPP, and Japan, with its remaining economic strength, can provide leadership to ensure that the agreement survives and is actually brought into practice. Commentary by US Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has also given PM Abe cause for optimism, as Tillerson, during congressional hearings last week, voiced his opinion that while sharing Trump's scepticism about whether the TPP was to US advantage, he also believed that the TPP has merit.
One other consequence of the weekend's visit was discussion on investment, a matter of importance to Japan given the need to stimulate Japan's industries to offset the slow domestic growth of the past few years. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Japan is a major investor in Australia, and its industries have poured billions into the Australian economy to take advantage of raw materials and stable supply. However Australian investment in Japan is virtually nil (a mere $14 million), and which is primarily focused on finance and tourism. For Australia to have any impact on shifting Japanese domestic debate towards the advantages of closer ties, it must raise its public profile and demonstrate that it has both the desire and the intent to strengthen such ties. After all, unilateral enthusiasm fades fast in the face of indifference.
Nonetheless, there is much cause for optimism in the future of the relationship, and it's about bloody time.