Japan and France are expected to discuss a defence cooperation agreement amid shared concerns about China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, when their foreign and defence ministers hold a “2 plus 2” virtual meeting on Thursday. Kyodo News Agency reported that the agreement is aimed at easing restrictions on the transport of weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief operations. Japan PM Kishida vows to bolster defence of islands near Taiwan The last “2 plus 2” talks – meaning dialogue involving two ministers from each country – were in January 2019, with a session last year postponed amid the pandemic. The talks come as Japan , a security ally of the United States and member of the US-led Quad security alliance that also includes Australia and India, expands military ties with several other countries. In November the German navy frigate Bayern docked in Japan, the first by a German warship in two decades, and conducted exercises in waters off Tokyo with vessels and aircraft from Japan’s Maritime Self-defence Force. Last month, Japan signed a memorandum of cooperation with Britain to develop a device capable of powering sixth-generation fighter aircraft. In September the two countries agreed to begin formal negotiations on a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) to deepen defence relations. In the same month their navies also conducted a first-of-its-kind joint submarine warfare exercise. Australia and Japan signed an RAA last month that will, among other things, allow for more naval war games and aviation exercises. France’s annual Jeanne d’Arc patrol and training mission stopped off in Japan in May last year, with French naval and ground units taking part in military manoeuvres with Japan and the US in southern Japan. The exercises simulated a number of scenarios, including defending remote islands and intercepting vessels at sea. Japan boosts coastguard fleet to counter Chinese patrols near Diaoyus Celine Pajon, head of Japan Research at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris said the talks indicate that France and Japan have developed a network of strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific. “It signals to Beijing that like-minded countries are coming together and coordinating on significant matters for the stability of the region,” she said. Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, at a press briefing on Tuesday, said Japan and France shared fundamental values and strategic interests. Japan drill simulated ‘foreign’ invasion of disputed East China Sea islands Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi will join him for the talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly. Tokyo has regularly expressed concerns over repeated intrusions by Chinese government vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus, which it controls, in the East China Sea. China claims them and calls them the Diaoyu Islands. France has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific where it has island territories, including Reunion in the Indian Ocean and New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia in the South Pacific. New Caledonia, which became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, rejected a vote on independence from France last month, amid rising concerns about China’s influence in the region. Last September Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force took part in an air defence exercise with the French navy off New Caledonia, made up of more than 100 islands, Tahiti being the largest. Spratly Islands, Diaoyu, Bay of Bengal: is a storm brewing in Asia-Pacific waters? In recent months China has increased military and naval incursions into Taiwan’s Air defence Identification Zone and deployed hundreds of coastguard and fishing vessels in its neighbours’ exclusive economic zones, including the Philippines. IFRI’s Pajon said that as China became increasingly assertive, Paris and Tokyo should “take the partnership to the next level” to uphold the rule of law at sea and regional stability. With Japan set to open a consulate in New Caledonia, Pajon said this would allow for closer cooperation, including in ocean governance and biodiversity protection. Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, said the United States’ “hub and spokes” system which had worked to maintain regional security in the past had failed with China’s rise. The system is a network of bilateral alliances pursued by the US in East Asia since the end of World War II, where security is guaranteed by America’s military power. “However, this system failed to maintain a military balance with China which escalated its military provocations,” Nagao said, adding that it was essential for Japan to share the security burden by forging stronger military ties with Australia, Britain and France. He added that attempts by Chinese coastguard ships to enter Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus and pursue Japanese fishing boats “demonstrates China’s attitude of territorial entitlement and disrespect for international law”. Nagao said Britain and France are competing with each other in the region, noting that Paris dispatched a nuclear submarine to the South China Sea in February and Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier arrived in the region in the summer. Part of the Carrier Strike Group, it covered 26,000 miles in 28 weeks and ended its maiden voyage last month. Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at China’s Renmin University in Beijing, said the trend of US allies turning to one another for defence arrangements is a sign Washington is keen on reducing its security burden. “It also proves that the ability of the US to dominate the security system is declining,” Wang said, adding that France, as the current president of the European Union, wants to establish new closer military and economic ties with other US allies, especially “after being stabbed in the back last year by the Aukus deal”. Australia’s nuclear submarine plan carries ‘enormous’ risks: report The French were angry about being left in the dark over the creation of Aukus – a trilateral military alliance comprising Australia, Britain and the US – which scuppered their own contract to sell submarines to Canberra. Paris argued that such a lack of transparency is inappropriate among close allies and represents a breach of trust. “The French have also accelerated their involvement in supply chain connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region, strengthened dialogue on security, and promoted EU strategic autonomy,” Wang added.