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China Looms Large at Australia-Japan Meeting

FILE - Chinese structures are pictured at the disputed Spratlys in South China Sea, April 21, 2017.

Australia's defense and foreign affairs ministers will sit down with their Japanese counterparts in Sydney Wednesday for their annual Two-Plus-Two gathering. China - though not present - loomed large at the gathering.

The Sydney conference is held as regional tensions continue to simmer. Last week a Chinese warship narrowly avoided a collision with an American destroyer in the South China Sea, while Japan is increasingly concerned about Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the East China Sea where both countries have competing claims.

Boosting defense ties with commitments to hold more joint military exercises have been on the agenda as Japanese ministers meet their Australian counterparts in Sydney. The two countries are also seeking to enhance their work with the United States to boost investment in infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, as they try to counter Chinese efforts to cultivate relations with developing nations.

“We are always pursuing the relationship in a very active way. This is the 8th Japan-Australia Two-Plus-Two (meeting) which we are holding here in Sydney today, and, of course, it is symbolized by our special strategic partnership and that is a characterization which is very important to both of us," said Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. "We will be very focused on maritime security, on democratic processes to which we are committed, on free trade, on the international rules based order.”

There will also be more diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program.

The ministers' meeting in Sydney Wednesday is a prelude to an expected visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Darwin next month ahead of a major regional summit in Papua New Guinea.

In February 1942, Japanese forces launched air raids on Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory, attacking US and Australian ships, its strategic harbor as well as military and civilian airbases. At least 243 people were killed. The raids were an attempt to damage Australia’s wartime morale and its military capabilities in the Pacific.

Much has changed in the past 70 years. During that time, Japan and Australia have developed very close military and trading ties.