Japan will hold a joint military drill with US and French troops in the country’s southwest next month, the defence minister has announced, as China’s actions in regional waters raise concern.
The exercise, running from May 11 to 17, will be the first large-scale exercise in Japan involving ground troops from all three countries, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) said in a statement on Friday.
It comes as Tokyo seeks to deepen defence cooperation beyond its key US ally to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the East and South China Seas.
“France shares the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.
“By strengthening cooperation between Japan, the United States and France, we’d like to further improve the tactics and skills of the Self-Defense Forces in defending remote island territories,” he said.
Paris has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific where it has territories, including the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the South Pacific.
The joint drills will be held at the JGSDF’s Kirishima training ground and Camp Ainoura in the Kyushu region and include amphibious operation exercises.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden pledged to stand firm together against China and step up cooperation including on technology.
The two leaders also agreed to oppose any attempts “to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas”.
Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader was also intended to invigorate joint efforts between the US, Japan, Australia and India, an informal alliance known as “the Quad”, which the new US administration views as a bulwark against China in the Indo-Pacific.
The US has accused China of “destabilising” the region with its construction of artificial islands, as well as naval and air facilities in the South China Sea.
Japan has long said it feels threatened by China’s vast military resources and territorial disputes.
It is particularly concerned by Chinese activity after the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu.
Washington has reiterated in recent months that the US-Japan Security Treaty covers the disputed islands.
China claims the majority of the South China Sea, invoking its so-called “nine-dash line” to justify what it has said are historic rights to the key trade waterway.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all contest parts of China’s declared territory in the sea.
An international tribunal in The Hague in 2016 invalidated China’s claims in the South China Sea in a first-ever ruling, also saying Chinese reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands are illegal. Beijing rejected the decision.