Tokyo: The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and France spoke on Thursday as the two countries seek to deepen security ties in the Indo-Pacific region, where tensions have risen amid a military buildup in the China and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, accompanied by Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, described France as an indispensable partner in achieving the goal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Japan, the United States, Australia and India promote this goal as a counterbalance to China’s growing influence and assertiveness in promoting its territorial claims in the region, which has some of the busiest seas in the world.
The talks between the four ministers, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly, were the first since 2019 and were held virtually.
“The security environment surrounding Japan and France is increasingly severe and uncertain, with some countries trying to change the status quo by force, Kishi said.
Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military activity in the waters surrounding the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and also calls Diaoyu, in the East China Sea.
He also noted North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and its recent advances in missile technology that could make them harder to intercept. North Korea has tested ballistic missiles four times this month.
France, which has territories in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, has strategic interests in the region. It sent a training fleet last year for joint exercises with Japan, the United States and other countries.
Japan has expanded its military ties beyond its traditional ally, the United States, and France is among the countries with which it has stepped up military cooperation in recent years.
Japanese officials said they hoped to reach an agreement to deepen their defense cooperation in new areas, including space and cyber. The two sides could also discuss a possible deal to ease restrictions on transporting weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief operations, Kyodo news agency reported.
Japan and France have already concluded several security agreements, notably on defense equipment and technology transfer.
The “2+2” diplomatic and defense talks with France came after Japan held similar talks with the United States earlier this month.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is holding a virtual summit with US President Joe Biden on Friday.
China has insisted on its territorial rights and criticized the vision of the “free and open Indo-Pacific” as an exclusionary bloc based on a Cold War-era mindset.
Tensions between China and Taiwan have also increased. China claims self-governing Taiwan as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary. He increased his military threats by holding exercises near the island and frequently sending warplanes into his air defense identification zone.