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Australia, Japan will collaborate on subs

Stealth system is primary goal

TOKYO — Japan and Australia agreed Wednesday to jointly develop stealth submarine technology, as Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, pushes his country toward a more assertive global military role.

Submarine technology was a top item at talks in Tokyo and was part of a pact to step up cooperation on defense matters.

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Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference that ministers agreed to begin the research next year. It will focus on technology that is applicable to any vessel, including submarines, he said, but declined to give further details.

Onodera said the research and possible technology transfer would not violate Japan’s pacifist constitution.

Onodera and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida were joined by their Australian counterparts, Julie Bishop and David Johnston, at Wednesday’s meeting. They also agreed to strengthen military ties.

The aim is to develop faster, quieter submarines with reduced water resistance, Japanese defense officials said this week. But the joint research will not necessarily lead to the sale of Japanese submarines to Australia, which is exploring purchasing submarines from Germany and France.

The research, however, widens the possibility of Japan’s 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 hazardous- materials suits with Britain and is seeking to export search and rescue aircraft to India.

Abe says the US-Japan alliance remains central to his security policy, but he has widened defense cooperation with Britain, France, India, and several Asia-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 during his visit. The diesel-electric sub is the most advanced in Japan’s fleet of 16. It has 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 Friday.

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