France will Friday agree to join Japanese navy patrols off North Korea in a fresh sign of efforts to deepen ties and military links between Tokyo and Paris, officials said.
Japan and France, which President Emmanuel Macron sees as a Pacific power because France controls territories in the region, share joint concerns about North Korea's nuclear programme, as well as China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
France will pledge to send a frigate and a reconnaissance aircraft to join surveillance efforts of North Korea, which involve Japanese and American naval forces based in the Japanese region of Okinawa, officials told AFP.
"The Indo-Pacific region is essential for us," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview with the regional Le Telegramme daily published ahead of security talks between the countries.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya were in France on Friday for talks with their French counterparts in Paris and the port town of Brest, home to France's second-biggest naval base.
Japan has also invited France to send its aircraft carrier to Japan, which would likely mean it passing through the contested South China Sea, claimed almost entirely by China.
The Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier is expected to begin a trip to Singapore shortly.
"We would like it to stop in Japan. It's not yet confirmed... it would be a very symbolic event," a spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Paris, Yoshihiro Higuchi, told AFP.
China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea as part of its territory, alarming the US and its allies, which periodically send planes and warships to the area in defence of their right under international law to pass through the waters.
French and Japanese marines are also set to hold joint exercises in the next few months off the coast of Djibouti in east Africa, where both countries have bases, and "perhaps in the Indian Ocean," a French official said.
- Countering Chinese influence -
France and Japan have upped efforts to deepen their naval partnership with a view to countering Chinese influence in the Pacific.
Macron has called for a new alliance between the Asian democracies of India, Australia, Japan and France, which has troops stationed in its colonial-era territory of New Caledonia.
Higuchi said that Japan saw Macron as "more active, more committed" to Pacific defence than his predecessors
"France is the only European country with a permanent military presence," Higuchi added.
Analysts say Japan too is eager to deepen its regional alliances due to uncertainty about US President Donald Trump's commitment to defending the country and other Asian allies.