PARIS –-- The defense and foreign ministers of Japan and France agreed at their “two-plus-two” meeting Friday to start negotiations over a bilateral accord on sharing defense supplies and services.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting in Paris, the ministers also expressed opposition to “unilateral action that would raise tensions” in the South China Sea, an apparent reference to China’s land reclamation and other activities in the contested waters highlighting its growing assertiveness.
The third meeting of the kind between the two countries involved Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on the Japan side and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Under the envisioned agreement, the Self-Defense Forces and the French military would provide each other with supplies, such as water and food, as well as other services, including equipment transportation and repair work.
Ayrault said at a news briefing that France and Japan have taken a new step in defense cooperation and will be able to further collaborate on humanitarian assistance and U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Kishida told reporters that Japan and France will seek to finalize the agreement “at the earliest time possible.”
Japan already has similar agreements with the United States and Australia, and is negotiating accords with Britain and Canada. It is also considering a similar deal with New Zealand. The moves are part of Tokyo’s overall effort to expand defense cooperation with other countries.
In the joint statement, the ministers called on all parties that have stakes in the South China Sea to respect obligations under international law, refrain from reclaiming land and building outposts, or using such land for military purposes.
Meanwhile, they also expressed hopes to finalize plans for joint research into undersea drones that search for mines. The plan is based on a bilateral defense equipment development accord that went into force last year.
Regarding the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Kishida unveiled a Japanese plan to provide $240 million to surrounding countries for refugee assistance.
Japan and France last held a similar meeting between their defense and foreign ministers in March 2015. The next such meeting is expected to be held in Tokyo in 2018.