Japan yesterday pressed ahead with a two-pronged effort to counter China, forging closer military ties with India as Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida set off to court Spain and France.
The moves come amid rising tensions over the disputed sovereignty of a set of uninhabited islands, and Chinese fury at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent visit to the Yasukuni war shrine.
Japan and India expanded air force ties before Abe visits New Delhi in a few weeks, bolstering relations two months after China declared an air-defence identification zone over the disputed maritime area.
Japan's defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, and his Indian counterpart, A.K. Antony, discussed starting talks between air force officials while reaffirming plans to conduct regular naval exercises, according to an Indian government statement. Asia's second- and third-largest economies might also conduct pilot exchanges, it said.
"Both sides know that China stands between them and that they'd be smart to make sure they're on the same page with each other now and in the future," said Uday Bhaskar, an analyst with the New Delhi-based National Maritime Foundation who spent 37 years in the Indian Navy.
"They're taking steps, small steps, but if there's an inclusion of the air force now, then you're seeing growth in this relationship."
The defence ministers met in New Delhi and "decided to strengthen India-Japan defence consultation and co-operation, including those related to maritime security", the Indian government said in the statement. Indian naval vessels would visit Japan to conduct exercises this year, it said.
Fumio Kishida, Japan's foreign minister, left for Europe yesterday. Observers expect him to argue the case for a bigger Japanese role in regional security.
In a message on his ministry's Facebook page, Kishida said: "I will continue to visit foreign countries actively this year, protect national interests and press ahead with diplomacy that contributes to world peace and stability."
Observers say Tokyo will be looking for support in Europe and other parts of the world that are sometimes suspicious of the motives of China, which accuses Japan of resurgent militarism. Kishida was scheduled to meet his Spanish counterpart, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo. He was set to make courtesy calls on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Juan Carlos today.
He will then travel to Paris and meet the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.
Tomorrow, the foreign and defence ministers from Japan and France will have their first-ever "two plus two" meeting at the foreign ministry. Kishida will also meet President Francois Hollande.
In the "two-plus-two" meeting. Japan and France will discuss ways to keep peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa, the Japanese foreign ministry official said.
The four ministers will "explain the security policy of each country" and "exchange views on regional situations such as East Asia and Africa".
"Of course, our two ministers will explain about what is happening now in East Asia and the Senkaku Islands," the official said, referring to the disputed islands known as the Diaoyus in China.
Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg