• Jiji

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Defense Minister Taro Kono is stepping up talks with his European and U.S. counterparts out of concern that China may further increase its military and economic presence after the novel coronavirus pandemic subsides.

His active diplomatic campaign comes at a time when the global crisis has been stalling Japan’s defense exchanges with other nations.

In telephone talks on Tuesday, Kono and British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace confirmed cooperation on the “free and open Indo-Pacific region” initiative.

He also held recent phone talks with the defense ministers of the United States, France and Germany.

Kono is seeking stepped-up cooperation with the West as China continues to demonstrate its military strength amid the health crisis. Recently, the aircraft carrier Liaoning and five other Chinese warships traveled back and forth between the islands of Okinawa and Miyakojima.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said earlier this month that a local fishing boat sank after being hit by a China Coast Guard ship near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

China has set up new administrative districts in the South China Sea that a senior Japanese defense official says represent an attempt to unilaterally change the area’s status quo by force.

In addition, China has supplied face masks and other goods, and medical equipment mainly to countries participating in its “One Belt, One Road” initiative to help them in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Apparently with China in mind, countries in Europe are increasingly concerned about the possibility of major infrastructure companies in the region, such as telecommunications firms, being acquired amid the economic stagnation resulting from the pandemic.

At a news conference Tuesday, Kono said he is talking with his foreign counterparts about how the epidemic will change the international order, showing his plans to hold more telephone talks with other countries.

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