BREST, FRANCE – The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and France affirmed on Friday the launch of a new bilateral framework to discuss maritime security and environmental issues amid China’s growing assertiveness, with the first meeting likely to be held by the end of the year.
In a joint communique released after the “two plus two” security talks in the French northwest coastal city of Brest, the ministers also expressed strong concern over the situation in the disputed East and South China seas and agreed to continue to cooperate toward dealing with North Korea’s denuclearization.
“We strongly oppose unilateral actions heightening tension” in the disputed waters, they said in the communique. Tokyo has been mired in a territorial spat with Beijing over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are called Diaoyu in China and are also claimed by Taiwan, where they are known as Tiaoyutai.
The talks between the countries, the fifth of their kind, involved Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya and their French counterparts Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly.
With the aim of realizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Stategy” based on freedom of navigation and the rule of law, Japan has been boosting cooperation with France, a maritime nation that deploys troops in its Pacific island territories, such as New Caledonia.
On the planned “comprehensive” maritime dialogue, Japanese and French officials from ministries concerned will discuss various maritime issues ranging from freedom of navigation and sustainable development to ocean plastic waste.
The two countries also agreed during the security talks to regularly hold joint military exercises between the Self-Defense Forces and the French Armed Forces.
In separate talks between the defense ministers held the same day, Japan and France agreed on a plan to hold a joint drill in the Indian Ocean that will involve the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle by the end of the year.
On North Korea, the two countries reaffirmed the need to demand that Pyongyang comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions over its nuclear and missile development programs, and France agreed to contribute more to crack down on ship-to-ship transfers of goods being used by North Korea to get around U.N. sanctions.
The countries also agreed to enhance cooperation on sharing defense supplies based on an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement signed by Kono and Parly last July.
Brest hosts one of the biggest French naval ports and the city has a graveyard in which five crew members of a Japanese merchant vessel sunk by a German U-boat in 1916 are buried.