French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, right, and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida speak at a Jan. 9 press conference in Paris. (Bertrand Guay / AFP)
PARIS — France and Japan vowed Thursday to strengthen their military ties, as Tokyo seeks French support in its long-running spat with Beijing over disputed islands that has raised fresh tensions.
Both China and Japan claim a set of islands in the East China Sea — Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese — as their own territory, and the escalating row has raised concerns that the two countries could eventually come to blows.
“We want to put in place concrete actions ... to reinforce defense technology and industry in both (our) countries,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida, after they held their first so-called “2+2” meeting along with their countries’ defense ministers.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the two nations planned to cooperate in areas such as the latest generation helicopters, drones and submarines.
Kishida was in France after a trip to Spain, as Japan strives to gain a greater presence on the world stage.
It has already held “2+2” meetings with the United States, Australia and Russia, and is now actively wooing France and Spain to help expand its clout in Africa and Latin America.
Japan has increasingly been dispatching peacekeepers on UN missions, and has beefed up its military presence in Africa by establishing a base in Djibouti to help combat piracy.
Kishida said he had discussed with Fabius the island row with China, amid widespread fears it could lead to a clash.
“Peace in the region is something we must work for together. We hope to have France’s understanding,” Kishida said.
Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera added: “Dialogue with China is indispensable. I have spoken to my Chinese colleague and called for a hotline and for talks to resume.”
China is also locked in a bitter row with Japan over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to a controversial spot that honors convicted war criminals, accusing Abe of whitewashing his country’s warring past — it invaded and occupied large swathes of China from 1931 to 1945.
Fabius, however, would not be drawn on Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which has already been condemned by Seoul and Washington as well as Beijing.
“It’s a memorial and it’s a very delicate matter. These things have to be resolved through the work of historians, public opinion and with respect for others,” Fabius said.
But Kishida said the aim of Abe’s visit was misunderstood.
“It is to show our sorrow and to pray that there are no more wars,” he said.
“All the leaders of the world should pray for the soldiers who gave their lives for their country,” he said.
The two Japanese ministers later met with President Francois Hollande who underscored France’s desire “to strengthen its political dialogue with Japan on global issues and to establish a long-term cooperation on defense and security issues,” according to a statement from the Elysee presidential palace.