Japan and France are set to start talks regarding a proposal that the two nations cooperate on developing military weapons and equipment. This was revealed after Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit on June 2, the latter showing signs of strong interest to the proposal even as Japan has been complaining about France’s seeming tendency to sell military equipment to China.
Despite the lingering issues, Onodera and Le Drian agreed that Japan and France should begin negotiations towards this direction of joint arms development, beginning with a bilateral summit scheduled for June 7 in Tokyo. “I think there is no difference with France in our thinking on this,” Onodera said after the meeting with Le Drian, showing his support and anticipation for the new arms development proposal. If France goes on to agree and hammer out a deal with Japan on arms development, it will become only the second country to engage in collaborative arms development with Japan, the first one being the United Kingdom.
One possible major stumbling block of this deal is France’s recent arms exports to China, which has upset the Japanese government and prompted Onodera to raise these questions to his French counterpart. Recently, France sold to China a helicopter landing grid, which gives better capabilities for helicopters to land on or take off from ships without crew assistance, especially in bad weather conditions. With Japan’s long-running territorial dispute with China over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island chain still simmering, Japan is admittedly concerned that said equipment will be utilized on Chinese ships around the disputed territory in the East China Sea. “If the equipment is installed on the (Chinese marine surveillance vessel) Haijian, that will fuel tensions in the East China Sea,” Onodera said at the meeting. But Le Drian stated that the sales cannot be regulated because the system is not termed as military equipment and is generally for civilian use.