Japan, Australia eye sub deal, closer defense ties

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Photo - Australia's Defense Minister David Johnston, left,  and his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera, right,  shake hands during a meeting in Tokyo, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Japan and Australia plan to move ahead with plans to develop a stealth submarine technology this week, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes to give his country a more assertive global military role.  (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Australia's Defense Minister David Johnston, left, and his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera, right, shake hands during a meeting in Tokyo, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Japan and Australia plan to move ahead with plans to develop a stealth submarine technology this week, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes to give his country a more assertive global military role. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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TOKYO (AP) — Japan and Australia discussed plans Wednesday to jointly develop stealth submarine technology, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes his country toward a more assertive global military role.

The submarine technology is a top item at "2+2" talks among the nations' foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo.

The research aims to develop faster submarines with reduced water resistance and quieter propellers, Japanese defense officials said earlier this week.

The technology would be applicable to any vessel, and would not necessarily lead to the sale of Japanese submarines to Australia, which is exploring purchasing submarines from Germany and France as well.

The research, however, widens the possibility of Japan supplying military technology overseas. The Abe government in April eased Japan's self-imposed limits on military exports, paving the way for its largely domestic defense industry to go global. Japan has also agreed to develop hazmat suits with Britain, and is seeking to export search and rescue aircraft to India.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera are hosting their Australian counterparts, Julie Bishop and David Johnston, at Wednesday's meeting. The four are expected to agree to strengthen military ties.

Abe says the U.S.-Japan alliance remains central to his security policy, but has widened defense cooperation with Britain, France, India and several Asian-Pacific nations, particularly Australia, amid an expansion of Chinese military activities in the region and concern that budget pressures may reduce America's presence.

He is trying to ease constitutional restraints so Japan's military can use force not only in Japan's own defense but also to defend foreign troops.

Onodera has said Australia has a strong interest in Japan's submarine technology. Johnston is expected to tour a Japanese Soryu-class submarine at Yokosuka naval port, south of Tokyo, during his visit.

The 2,950-ton diesel-electric submarine is the most advanced model in Japan's fleet of 16 submarines. It comes with air-independent propulsion technology acquired from Sweden, and is armed with torpedoes and Harpoon missiles.

"We would like the Australian side to closely look at Japanese defense equipment so we can build an even more cooperative relationship between Japan and Australia," Onodera told reporters last Friday.

Australia is also in talks with Germany and France about a 40 billion Australian dollar ($37 billion) plan to replace its Collins-class submarines.

No deal on submarine or other specific military technology is expected during the Australian ministers' visit, but the two sides are expected to reach an agreement that will allow joint development of defense technology.

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Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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