Japan and France plan to hold virtual ministerial security talks in mid-January focusing on China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China seas and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, Japanese government sources have said.

The defense and foreign ministers of the two countries are expected to release documents after the so-called two-plus-two talks, the first of their kind since the last session was held in France in January 2019, the sources said Friday.

The two sides are likely to discuss ways to boost response capability against military threats in the Indo-Pacific, especially after North Korea on Friday carried out what became the third launch of apparent ballistic missiles in 10 days.

Amid concerns about China’s rising maritime assertiveness, the Japanese and French ministers are expected to affirm coordination in realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and deepen defense cooperation, according to the sources.

The upcoming talks will involve Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and their respective French counterparts, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly.

Tokyo and Paris had initially planned to hold an in-person two-plus-two meeting in Japan by the end of 2021 but postponed it due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has been fueled as of late by the rapid spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Japan and France have generally taken turns hosting such meetings since their first session in 2014.

Nobuo Kishi | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Nobuo Kishi | POOL / VIA REUTERS

Earlier this month, Japan and Australia signed a defense cooperation pact called the Reciprocal Access Agreement, which eases restrictions on the transportation of weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief operations.

France, which calls Japan “a special partner,” has expressed its desire to sign such an accord with Japan, as Tokyo has been strengthening maritime security ties with the European nation, which has overseas territories in the Indo-Pacific region.

Tokyo has been reinforcing defense cooperation with European countries like Britain and Germany in response to an increasingly assertive China, and France’s Jeanne d’Arc training fleet made a port call in Japan last May.

Japan and France have been conducting joint exercises as well, joined by the United States and Australia.

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