SINGAPORE--Despite Japanese objections to France's military equipment sales to China and Russia, Japan has agreed to hold official talks on joint weapons development with France.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on June 2 met with his French counterpart on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit here. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian showed a strong interest in Japanese weapons-related technology, and proposed that the two nations jointly develop military weapons and equipment.
Onodera and Le Drian agreed that Japan and France will begin talks aimed at hammering out an agreement to carry out joint arms development, beginning with the bilateral summit scheduled for June 7 in Tokyo.
“I think there is no difference with France in our thinking on this,” Onodera told reporters after the meeting with Le Drian, showing his support for joint arms development efforts.
However, France’s recent arms exports to China and planned sales to Russia, upset Japan and prompted Onodera to question his French counterpart.
France has sold to China defense contractor DCNS SA’s landing grid, which allows helicopters to land on or take off from ships without crew assistance even in bad weather.
Japan has expressed concerns to France that the equipment will be used on Chinese ships intruding into Japanese waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands 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 reiterated his country’s stance that the sales cannot be regulated because the system will not be used for military purposes in China and is not subject to a European Union ban on arms exports.
Russia also plans to purchase amphibious assault ships from France and station them at its marine bases in the Far East. This purchase has raised Japanese concerns that the Russian military will increasingly exert its influence in the Far East.
“It will upset the military balance,” Onodera said on June 2. But Le Drian replied that there are no problems with the export to Russia.
One past stumbling block to an arms development collaboration, the Japanese government's three principles on arms exports, established in 1967, is apparently not a concern.
The government banned the exports of weapons to communist block countries, countries subject to arms exports embargo under the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions and countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts.
But since the government at the end of 2011 eased the ban on arms exports, Japan has been able to develop weapons jointly with other countries in addition to the United States. France has made informal proposals to conduct joint development.
If the two nations reach an agreement, France will become the second country to engage in collaborative arms development with Japan, following Britain, since Tokyo relaxed the ban.
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