Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pay his respects at a war memorial in Darwin, the Australian city devastated by Japanese bombing in 1942, in the first formal visit from a Japanese leader to Darwin since during World War II.
Abe is expected to visit the Darwin Cenotaph, a monument to the country’s servicemen, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a historic and symbolic meeting.
It will be the leaders’ first meeting since the Australian PM unexpectedly took office in August 2018.
Abe also plans to take a look at Japan’s biggest ever foreign investment, the gigantic $U40 billion Ichthys gas project, which began shipping LNG in October 2018.
Abe is expected to cement ties with Australia by promoting Tokyo’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” policy, touted to “promote stability and prosperity in areas between Asia and Africa rooted in rule-based order and freedom of navigation,” as well as reconfirm cooperation in maritime security, Japanese government sources told The Japan Times.
During his visit Abe will visit a memorial erected in 2017 to commemorate 80 seamen killed about a month before the infamous bombing of Darwin in February 1942.
The explosion of a ship, filled with TNT and ammunition, hit during the first Japanese air raid on Australia’s mainland, at Darwin on Feb. 19, 1942.
Allied forces sank one of four Japanese submarines that tried to attack the northern town, according to The Australian newspaper
The I-124 submarine now lies on the seabed off Darwin. It is thought to be intact and undisturbed.
Abe goes to Canberra
Abe’s visit to Australia, and his hectic Asian Pacific schedule is widely viewed by analysts as a counter to Beijing’s growing influence across the Indo-Pacific.
The show of postwar reconciliation and the tightening of strategic bonds will strengthen Canberra and Tokyo’s economic and defense ties at a time when China is asserting its role in the region and US engagement in Asia under the Trump administration is less certain, the Times noted.
Japan and Australia normalized ties in 1957, with the signing of the “Agreement on Commerce”, just 12 years after the end of World War II.
The deal was controversial at the time as many Australians said Canberra had moved too quickly to sign a formal agreement with its regional adversary and the only nation to attempt to invade modern Australia, Japan.
Today that agreement is widely seen as a critical turning point in Australia’s engagement with its own backyard and Asia as a whole.
Abe’s visit comes almost two years after the Japanese prime minister made a similar significant visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 2016.
Pearl Harbour was the site of the 1941 attack by Japan that brought the US roaring into the second world war, and prompted then President Franklin Roosevelt to name Dec. 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers his “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress on December 8, 1941.
On that day, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,300.
Yet the bombing attack on Darwin was even more brutal than Pearl Harbor.
More bombs were dropped on Darwin, more civilians killed, and more ships sunk.
Japan’s sudden and ferocious campaign finally brought a distant war home for Australians and Darwin became the frontline.
It was the largest and most destructive single attack mounted by a foreign power on Australia and led to the worst death toll from any event in the nation’s history.
More than 240 people were killed by the air raid in the former stronghold of Allied forces. Darwin later endured dozens more Japanese air attacks.
The visits reflect Abe’s intention for a postwar Japan to shore up regional ties with allies like the US and Australia.
Japan faces both military and economic challenges as a growing China flexes its regional muscle and poses more of a strategic question for Japan’s key ally, the US.
While Japan expressed biter disappointment that France beat it to lucrative contracts for Australia’s multi-billion dollar revamp of its ailing submarine fleets the two nations have moved closer to signing off on the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) — which would effectively allow Australian and Japanese forces to move freely in and out of either territory.
Japan is also likely to be pleased with prime minister Morrison’s “Pacific pivot” speech on Nov. 9, 2018, committing some billion to support infrastructure projects around the region — largely in line with Japanese intentions to diversify sources of investment in the region away from China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Abe’s visit will be bookended by Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related meetings in Singapore and a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea.
All after meeting with the US vice president Mike Pence who arrived in Japan Monday evening Tokyo time, as the two held brief talks Tuesday before traveling onto Singapore and then to Australia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.