The three countries’ first joint exercises on Japanese soil – dubbed “ARC21” and which began on Tuesday – come as they seek to strengthen their military ties amid an increasingly assertive Chinese climate in the region.
Japanese soldiers and their counterparts in the French Army and the US Marine Corps also conducted an urban warfare exercise using a concrete building elsewhere in the Kirishima training area of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the south of the Miyazaki prefecture. About 200 soldiers participated in the exercises on Saturday.
The three countries were also joined by Australia on Saturday in an expanded naval exercise involving 11 warships in the East China Sea, where tensions with China are mounting around the island of Taiwan.
The exercises come as Japan seeks to bolster its military capabilities in a deepening territorial conflict with China in regional seas. Japan is increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in and around the waters claimed by Japan around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and also calls Diaoyu.
Since the end of World War II, the Japanese constitution has limited the use of force to self-defense. Japan has continued in recent years to expand its military role, capabilities and budget.
Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who observed the exercise, stressed the importance of French participation in joint exercises regularly organized between Japan and the United States, and often with Australia.
“It was a valuable opportunity for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to maintain and strengthen its strategic capability necessary to defend our remote islands,” Nakayama said. “Together, we were able to show the rest of the world our commitment to defend Japanese lands, territorial seas and airspace.”
“This is obviously very important for us because we must be alongside people who share this part of the world,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Henri Marcaillou of the French army at the end of the exercise on Saturday.
US Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeremy Nelson said the three countries have shown they can work together “for a common goal or a common cause.”
Britain, which recently adopted a policy of deeper engagement in the region, is sending the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group, which are due to arrive in the region later this year. Germany is also on the verge of deploying a frigate to the region.
Japan and the United States have promoted a free and open Indo-Pacific vision of defense and a democratically-based economic framework in the region in a group known as the Quad, which also includes Australia. and India, seen as a movement to counter China’s escalation. influence in the region.
China has criticized the US-Japan framework as an exclusionist bloc based on a Cold War-era mindset.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press video reporter Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.