Update: We originally wrote that the drills would take part in Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture) but this was just an example of possible drill area mentioned by the Sankei Shimbun.
The information was first reported by Japanese daily newspaper the Sankei Shimbun and follows the recent visit of the French Navy’s Chief of Staff to Tokyo.
French forces in Europe will join the drill to send a message of restraint in front of China, which is strengthening its heavy-handed maritime expansion in the East and South China Seas, with the aim of strengthening and expanding its encirclement of China.
The announcement confirms that it is a French amphibious group (ARG) that will be sent to Japan next year, and not the carrier strike group (CSG). In addition, the Royal Navy will send its aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its strike group near Japan “as soon as early next year,” Kyodo News reported over the weekend.
Japan US France naval drills: Not a first
This will mark the third time that French vessels from “mission Jeanne D’Arc” (a Mistral-class LHD and a La Fayette-class frigate deployed on a long duration cadet training mission) calls in Japan. In 2015 and 2017, the French vessels called in Sasebo (Nagasaki Prefecture). The drills in 2015 already involved Japanese, American and French units near Kyushu. A French Navy EDAR landing catamaran operated with JMSDF’s Osumi LST. Similar amphibious drills took place in May 2017 in Guam during exercise “ARC 17”. A US Marines company, a Japan Self Defense Force squad as well as British Merlin MK3A were aboard the French Mistral LHD for the amphibious drills.
Drills with China in sight
The joint drill in May next year will have humanitarian aid and disaster relief as its objective, but will also include landing on uninhabited islands by aircraft and landing by amphibious vehicles and boats, and the content of the drill has many items in common with operations to defend and retake remote islands. If landing drills are carried out on uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, it will send a strong message to deter China’s attempts to seize the Senkaku Islands, with the participation of French.[…] A JMSDF amphibious ship, a land-based naval task force, a U.S. Navy ship and the Marine Corps, a French naval ship and an army unit stationed in French Polynesia are expected to participate in the exercise.
The Japanese government emphasizes the importance of strengthening security cooperation with the French military. France is already participating in the enforcement of the embargo on North Korea which consists in maritime surveillance mission. In addition to Japan, the Five Eyes countries (U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) are also participating in those surveillance activities. According to the Sankei Shimbun, the Japanese government is ready to expand the surveillance mission of the “Five Eyes plus two” in order to include checks on China.