French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as he arrives for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 2, 2024.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as he arrives for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 2, 2024.REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

France, Japan strengthen military ties amid Indo-Pacific tensions

France and Japan agreed to start formal talks on a reciprocal troop access deal, strengthening military cooperation in amid rising maritime tensions in the Indo-Pacific region and the war in Ukraine.

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) -France and Japan agreed on Thursday to start formal talks on a reciprocal troop access deal, strengthening military cooperation in amid rising maritime tensions in the Indo-Pacific region and the war in Ukraine.

The G7 allies have held numerous joint military exercises in recent years, bilaterally and as part of a wider group. Paris has been pushing for more than a year to begin talks on a reciprocal access agreement (RAA).

RAAs create frameworks to facilitate military cooperation, such as making the entry of foreign personnel and equipment easier for the visiting force.

"They agreed to start negotiations," a Japanese government official said, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Emmanuel Macron met in Paris. "Given the accumulation of cooperation and (military) exercises, we consider this important."

A Japanese government statement confirmed that the agreement to move forward with talks. The French presidency said in a statement that concluding the RAA would promote interoperability between the two militaries.

In December 2023, Japan announced its biggest military build-up since World War Two in a step away from its post-war pacifism. It has already signed RAAs with Australia and the United Kingdom and is negotiating a third with the Philippines.

Tokyo, which spent about two years negotiating the agreement with Australia and one year negotiating the one with Britain, hosts the biggest concentration of U.S. forces abroad.

The official said a deal with France could take about a year to conclude. A French diplomatic source said Paris hoped it could be done "very quickly."

Japan has sought to strengthen defence ties amid concerns about China, including its pressure on Taiwan, freedom of navigation in the region and trade disputes.

It has also backed Ukraine in its war against Russia, saying it is vital to protect the rules-based international order.

"We see what's happening in Europe and the Indo-Pacific as inseparable," the government official said.

France has territories in the Indo-Pacific and stations armed forces in the region, where it has sought to develop its presence.

It wants to underscore how it can play a bigger role in Japan's defence industry, as it has in the civilian nuclear power sector, as Kishida adopts a more muscular military policy in the region.

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu has previously said that Paris was hoping to agree an RAA with Japan.

(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Christina Fincher and Richard Chang)

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