France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, right, and his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera, left, review an honor guard at the Defence Ministry in Tokyo on July 29. (Toru Yamanaka / AFP)
TOKYO — Japan and France on Tuesday agreed to enhance defense cooperation, including the joint development of military equipment, Japanese officials said.
Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian signed a memorandum of understanding in Tokyo despite Japanese concerns about a planned sale of French warships to Russia.
The agreement comes shortly after Japan’s government — led by conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — expanded the scope of the country’s forces, allowing it the right to go into battle in defense of its allies.
It also follows a commitment made by Abe and French President Francois Hollande in Paris last May to start talks on a deal to jointly develop defense equipment.
“By signing the memorandum, we agreed to further advance our defense cooperation,” Onodera said.
He added that during the talks, Le Drian proposed the two countries conclude a “Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA),” a bilateral pact Japan has already signed with main ally the United States and Australia.
Such a deal would enable the two countries to exchange food, fuel, transportation, ammunition, equipment and other support.
France appeared interested in developing defense equipment based on robot technology as well as unmanned systems such as underwater vehicles, Onodera said.
Onodera said he had asked Le Drian to stop France’s planned sale of two amphibious assault ships to Russia because of fears they are to be deployed in Ukraine and the Far East.
But Le Drian, according to Onodera, said payment for the Mistral-class carriers, which are capable of launching helicopter, tank and missile attacks, had already been made.
Japan’s agreement with France is the second with another country this month after it decided to conduct joint research on air-to-air missiles with Britain.
In April, Japan eased its rules on arms exports to boost defense development with other nations.
Japan’s loosening of restrictions on its powerful military earlier this month was a major and highly controversial shift for the nation’s pacifist stance.