The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and France held a regular “two plus two” meeting in Tokyo Friday in which they agreed to beef up mutual diplomatic cooperation in securing a “rule-based order” in maritime security, including the East and South China seas.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French Defense Minister Florence Parly also agreed to cooperate in maintaining “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” saying it is “a common interest” of the two countries.
“We agreed to develop our cooperation to make the Indo-Pacific region an international public goods that is free and open,” Kono said.
“We confirmed that Japan and France can cooperate comprehensively” on security, Parly said.
Advocating “a free and open Indo-Pacific” is a strategy Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has developed to emphasize the importance of democracy, rule-based order and market mechanisms in nurturing economic prosperity in the broad region.
One of its key goals, however, is to keep China’s growing influence in check by emphasizing those values, experts say. In a joint statement, Paris effectively endorsed Tokyo’s strategy.
Fumihiko Yamada, a former diplomat who teaches at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, said France in recent years has quietly started developing “a shared view” with Japan over China’s growing military presence at sea.
“Originally Asia was a distant area for France, and it didn’t have much meaning on its security policy. . . . But the rise of China has changed that,” Yamada said.
China is an important trading partner for France, and Paris will try to avoid damaging its relationship with Beijing, he said.
But it is also true that France is paying more attention to China’s growing military power partly because it has territories in the South Pacific and a vast exclusive economic zone based on them, he said.
The four also agreed that the increasing missile and nuclear weapon threats coming from North Korea have become the biggest challenges to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
To prevent the isolated regime from further developing those programs, the ministers agreed to maximize pressure by calling on international society to review its diplomatic and economic relations with Pyongyang. The four also agreed to promote deeper defense cooperation through joint exercises.
The Japanese officials welcomed a plan to hold joint exercises in February once the French frigate Vendemiaire arrives in Japan.
They also welcomed progress in talks to finalize the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which will allow military forces of the two countries to mutually provide logistical supplies and services.
The ACSA negotiations began at their previous two-plus-two meeting in January 2017.
The French foreign and defense chiefs, who arrived Friday for a four-day trip, paid a courtesy visit to Abe earlier in the day.
Abe plans to visit Paris in July to participate in the opening ceremony for Japonism 2018, a series of events commemorating the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Japan.
Separate meetings of the two foreign ministers and the two defense ministers will be held Saturday.
The next two-plus-two meeting is expected to take place next year in France.