Japan is likely to conduct a joint military exercise with the United States and French troops in the country’s southwest next month, Defence minister Nobuo Kishi announced on Friday.
The joint exercises will be held at the JGSDF’s Kirishima training ground and Camp Ainoura in the Kyushu region and will include amphibious operation drills.
According to the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), the exercise will run from May 11 to 17 and will be the first such large-scale exercise in Tokyo to include troops from all three countries including Washington and Paris.
The military drills come at a time when Japan is extensively seeking support beyond its major US ally to counter China’s growing threats in the East and South China seas.
“France is the only country in Europe with a permanent military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. It is also a comrade country that shares the vision of “free and open Indo-Pacific” with Japan,” Mr. 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 added.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden reconfirmed their cooperation against the threats posed by China and to build cooperation including on technology.
Biden held his first face-to-face White House summit with PM Suga and China topped the agenda. The two leaders issued a joint statement saying they addressed a number of geopolitical issues, including “the importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait”. The purpose of the meeting was also to promote joint efforts between the US, Japan, Australia and India, an informal alliance known as the ‘Quad’.
“We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo Pacific,” Biden told a joint news conference.
There has been a dispute over the contentious South China Sea region for centuries between Southeast Asian nations such as China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. The two primary points of disagreement are the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the sea.
China claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, implementing its “nine-dash line” to justify what it has said are historic rights for major trade waterways.
In 2016, an international tribunal in the Hague rejected Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea in a first-ever ruling, stating that Chinese reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands are baseless. However, Beijing rejected the verdict.
The US has accused China of “destabilizing” the region with the construction of artificial islands, along with naval and air facilities in the South China Sea.
Japan has long felt threatened by Beijing’s vast military resources and territorial contentions. It is particularly concerned with Chinese activity in the post-Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls Diaoyu.