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Security and health dominate Japan meeting

By AAP Newswire

Australia and Japan have discussed security and defence co-operation as tensions with China continue to rise.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison held talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe via video link on Thursday evening.

The leaders spoke about security and defence ties, the pandemic sweeping the world, economic recovery, and supply chains for critical goods and services.

They discussed working together to address "challenges to a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific region", and emphasised the need to strengthen national and international preparedness to prevent and respond to future pandemics, according to a joint media release.

The two leaders expressed grave concern about China's imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong, and voiced their strong opposition to "any coercive or unilateral actions that could alter the status quo or increase tensions in the East and South China Seas".

It comes on the heels of the countries' defence ministers meeting with their United States counterpart.

In a joint statement, the three defence ministers also reiterated their strong opposition to "any destabilising or coercive unilateral actions" in the East China Sea, which separates China and Japan, as well as the use of force or coercion in the South China Sea.

They expressed serious concerns about the continued militarisation of disputed areas in the South China Sea, dangerous or coercive use of coast guard vessels and "maritime militia", and efforts to disrupt other countries' mining and drilling.

Australia's latest defence posture update takes a more hawkish view of China's increasing power.

Last week, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds accused China of deeply unsettling the Indo-Pacific, and on Tuesday the government issued new travel advice warning Australians they could face arbitrary detention and espionage accusations if they visit China.

Mr Morrison and Mr Abe also signed a memorandum of co-operation at Thursday's meeting to further promote collaboration between their respective space agencies.

Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews later said it would "open the door for local innovators and help in Australia's mission of growing our connected, respected and globally competitive space industry".

Mr Morrison was scheduled to visit Japan in January, including spending a significant amount of time with Mr Abe in Tokyo.

At that time, security was expected to be the key topic of talks amid heightened tensions with North Korea.

However, Mr Morrison postponed the trip to deal with the bushfires before the spread of the coronavirus stymied international travel.

He hopes to reschedule as soon as travel is possible.