• Reuters

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Japan, France and the United States will hold joint military drills on land and sea for the first time in May next year as the Chinese military steps up activity in the region, the Sankei newspaper said Sunday.

The exercises, to be conducted on one of Japan’s uninhabited outlying islands, will focus on providing relief efforts during a natural disaster, but parts could also form the basis for a defense against attack, the paper said, without citing sources.

Japan’s Defense Ministry was not immediately available to respond to a request for confirmation.

The joint exercises aim to counter China, which claims Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, the paper said.

“We want to demonstrate our presence to the region and send a message about Japan-France cooperation,” Adm. Pierre Vandier, chief of staff of the French navy, told Sankei separately.

“This is a message aimed at China. This is a message about multilateral partnerships and the freedom of passage.”

China has said its intentions in the region are peaceful.

But Japan has grown particularly concerned about a rise in Chinese naval activity around the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Beijing refers to them the Diaoyu.

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