French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) listens to Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly (2-L) with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (2-R) and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (R) in Tokyo. Photo: Reuters/Frank Robichon

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Japanese government sources have told the Asahi Shimbun that Japan and France will conduct joint naval exercises in February in a “show of strength” against China’s activities in the South China Sea.

Asahi says an agreement on the maneuvers is expected to be made at a “two plus two” meeting of the Japanese and French foreign and defense ministers on January 26 in Tokyo. The two countries are said to be bolstering their security cooperation in the Pacific region due to China’s expanding naval presence and its policy toward the South China Sea.

The exercise between Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the French Navy would involve the French frigate Vendemiaire, which is charged with patrolling France’s overseas territories, the sources said. But there’s no indication on where the exercise will be held.

The sources stressed that France views itself as a “Pacific nation,” given that it controls territories in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

Japan reportedly wants to secure France’s support for its diplomatic strategy that seeks to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

The sources said the two nations are expected to issue a joint statement at the January 26 meeting that emphasizes the importance of freedom of navigation and other issues.

Other military cooperation eyed

Japanese and French officials are also seeking a broad agreement on an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement for the exchange of supplies such as ammunition between the Japan’s Self-Defense Force and the French military.

They are further expected to confirm plans to begin joint research on mine detection technology.

Cooperation with France is the latest move by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to nurture new military ties and alliances as the balance of global power shifts.

Japan and Britain agreed in December to conduct joint naval maneuvers in the Pacific this year as part of a military cooperation pact. The pact also includes jointly developing a new air-to-air missile for the US F-35 stealth fighter used by both countries.

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