• KYODO, AFP-JIJI

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed Saturday to strengthen bilateral security cooperation as part of efforts to realize a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

In a joint statement released after their meeting in Tokyo, Suga and Macron welcomed the opening of the Summer Games in the Japanese capital, calling the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a symbol of world unity in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leaders also underscored the need to take effective and swift action in ensuring equitable vaccine access globally, while vowing to continue cooperation in the fight against climate change.

The French president hailed the two countries’ “exceptional” relationship after meeting Suga.

“At a time when we are all fighting against the virus, striving for recovery, this partnership is a strength,” he tweeted.

Macron and Suga wore masks and exchanged a double fist-bump in lieu of a handshake.

The meeting came a day after Macron attended the opening ceremony of the Olympics, which France will host in the summer of 2024.

Macron was the only head of state from the Group of Seven industrialized nations, including Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United States plus the European Union, to travel to Japan for the event.

Besides issues related to the Olympics, Suga and Macron affirmed close bilateral and multilateral defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of China’s assertive territorial claims and military buildup in the region.

France shares a common interest with Japan, the United States and other democracies in ensuring regional peace and stability as Paris has a number of island territories in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

France has been increasing its involvement in multinational military drills with Japan and other democracies in the East China Sea and other parts of the Indo-Pacific.

Saturday’s meeting came after the leaders met on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in June in Britain, at which Macron promised to attend the Olympics’ opening in Tokyo despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their statement also touched on the issue of parental abduction in Japan, which does not offer joint custody for children in cases of divorce or separation.

“The two countries are working to strengthen their dialogue while prioritizing the children’s best interests,” it said.

The subject has been in the headlines since a French father in Tokyo began a hunger strike to win access to his children, who he says were abducted by their Japanese mother.

Vincent Fichot has not seen his two children in nearly three years and began a hunger strike outside the Olympic Stadium on July 10. Macron’s advisers met with Fichot on Thursday.

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