France and Japan have agreed to step up military cooperation in order to counter what they consider China’s “unilateral actions” in the East and South China seas.
The foreign and defense ministers of two countries made the announcement on Friday as they wrapped up security talks known as “two-plus-two” in the French northwest coastal city of Brest.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly, along with their counterparts Taro Kono and Takeshi Iwaya, said in a joint statement that the cooperation was aimed at both countering China’s assertiveness in the East and South China seas.
“We strongly oppose unilateral actions heightening tension” in the disputed waters, read a joint statement by the four ministers, apparently referring to a territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo in the East China Sea.
Japan and China, two of the world’s largest economies, had for several years been locked in a territorial row over a small group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku by the Japanese and the Diaoyu by the Chinese. They are controlled by Japan, but claimed by Beijing.
Last year, former Japanese defense chief Itsunori Onodera, claimed that China was “unilaterally escalating its military activities in the sea and aviation spaces around our country.”
China maintains that its sovereignty over the islands is indisputable.
During the Friday meeting, France agreed to send a frigate and a reconnaissance aircraft to join surveillance efforts of the Korean Peninsula.
Tokyo also asked Paris to send its aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle — which is expected to begin a journey to Singapore soon — to Japan.
This means that the French warship would likely pass through the South China Sea, where Japanese military forces have been carrying out joint military practices with the United States to protect what they regard as “freedom of navigation” in the sea.
China lays claim over most of the waters, which act as a gateway to billions of dollars in maritime trade. Japan regards the sea as one of a key energy and economic lifeline.
“We would like it [Charles de Gaulle] to stop in Japan. It’s not yet confirmed… it would be a very symbolic event,” Yoshihiro Higuchi, a spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Paris, was quoted as saying by AFP.
China guarantees safe passage to ships in the waters and protests to foreign military presence there, saying foreign patrols raise tensions.
He said that Tokyo saw French President Emmanuel Macron as “more active, more committed” to Pacific defense than his predecessors.
North Korea denuclearization
The two sides stated that the military ties let them cooperate toward dealing with North Korea’s denuclearization.
They said Pyongyang should comply with UN Security Council resolutions over its nuclear and missile development programs.
France also pledged more efforts to stop ship-to-ship transfers of goods being used by North Korea to get around UN sanctions.
Joint war games in Africa
French and Japanese forces were also set to hold joint military maneuvers off the coast of Djibouti in east Africa and “perhaps in the Indian Ocean” in the next few months, a French official said.
France, which also controls territories in the Pacific, has also made calls for a new alliance with the Asian countries, including India, Australia, Japan and France,
Le Drian said in an interview with the French-language Le Telegramme newspaper ahead of the Brest security talks that “the Indo-Pacific region is essential” for Paris.
Tokyo’s latest move to hold joint war games with France is likely provoke harsh reactions from Beijing.