TOKYO (AP) — The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and France held talks on Thursday as the two countries seek to deepen security ties in the Indo-Pacific region, where tensions have been rising amid China’s military buildup 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 are promoting the goal as a counter to China’s growing influence and assertiveness in pushing its territorial claims in the region, which has some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
The talks among 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 attempting to change the status quo with force, Kishi said.
Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military activity in waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu, in the East China Sea.
He also noted North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and its recent advancement in missile technology which could make them more difficult to intercept. North Korea has test-fired 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 nations.
Japan has been broadening its military ties beyond its traditional ally the United States, and France is among the countries it has stepped up military cooperation with in recent years.
Japanese officials have said they hope to reach an agreement to deepen their defense cooperation in new areas including space and cyber. The two sides may also discuss a possible agreement to ease restrictions on transportation of weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief operations, Kyodo News agency reported.
Japan and France have already concluded several security agreements, including on defense equipment and technology transfer.
The “2+2” defense and diplomatic 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 U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday.
China has insisted on its territorial rights and criticized the “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision as an exclusionist bloc based on a Cold War-era mindset.
Tensions between China and Taiwan have also been rising. China claims self-governing Taiwan as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary. It has been increasing its military threats by holding exercises near the island and frequently sending warplanes into its air defense identification zone.