TOKYO — Japanese ground troops joined American and French counterparts in their first three-way exercise on Japanese land, as they seek to strengthen military ties amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region.
The “ARC21” exercise started Tuesday at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Ainoura base in Nagasaki prefecture. Japan is seeking to expand its military ties beyond its alliance with the United States to include “like-minded” countries such as France, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.
He said France, the only European nation with a permanent military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, is “a like-minded country that shares with Japan the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.” He said Japan welcomes France’s participation in the region and hopes to expand the partnership further.
About 100 Japanese troops, including rapid amphibious deployment units, or Japanese marines, joined by 60 troops each from the French army and U.S. Marine Corps, are to conduct urban warfare drills followed by amphibious operation exercises under a scenario of defending a remote island from an enemy invasion.
On Tuesday, the troops started three days of operations at Camp Ainoura in Nagasaki. Later in the week, they will fly to Kirishima training ground for an urban warfare drill at a facility designed to simulate a remote island. Australian troops will also join part of the exercises held in the East China Sea.
The exercise comes as Japan seeks to bolster its military capability amid a deepening territorial row with China in regional seas. Japan is increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in and around Japanese-claimed waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.
France, which has territories in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Britain, which recently adopted a policy of deeper engagement in the region, is sending aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group, which are due to arrive in the region later this year. Germany is also set to deploy a frigate to the region.
Kishi said growing interest in the Indo-Pacific region among European nations and their increased presence “contribute to the peace and stability in the region.” He said the free and open Indo-Pacific concept does not target any specific nation, such as China.
China has criticized the free and open Indo-Pacific vision as an exclusionist bloc based on a Cold War-era mindset.