A U.S. Navy captain said Monday conducting a joint exercise with like-minded countries such as Australia, France and Japan will contribute to enhancing regional stability.

"We have a common goal of an open and free Indo-Pacific area. And we have got like-minded allies and partners as we do with the French, Australians and the Japanese," Capt. Brian Schrum, commanding officer of the naval vessel New Orleans, said in a telephone roundtable briefing following a large-scale drill with the three countries.

Naval vessels sail in formation during a joint exercise by Japan, the United States, France and Australia on May 14, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Maritime Self-Defense Force)(Kyodo)

The six-day exercise "ARC21," hosted by Japan, was conducted through Sunday in southwestern Japan and the East China Sea as Tokyo seeks to deepen defense cooperation beyond the United States, its long-standing security ally, amid China's increased military maneuvers in the region.

Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force carried out urban warfare and amphibious operation exercises with France and the United States. It was the first time for the three countries to conduct such exercises on Japanese soil.

In parallel with the drills, the three countries were joined by an Australia frigate in the East China Sea, where the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands are located, and engaged in an aerial defense exercise.

The multinational exercise came as China continues to send its ships into Japanese waters around the Senkakus, a group of uninhabited islets claimed by Beijing.

"Our commitment to our friends in the region is our most effective deterrent," Lt. Col. Jeremy Nelson, commanding officer of the 3rd Marine Logistics Group, said in the briefing.

Photo taken on May 15, 2021, shows a joint drill between Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force, the U.S. Marine Corps and the French army at the GSDF's Kirishima training ground that straddles the Miyazaki Prefecture city of Ebino and the Kagoshima Prefecture town of Yusui. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"The United States and Japanese forces regularly train together but having the French there provided the ability for yet another partner and ally to conduct training and conduct staff planning. It increases our ability to exchange standard operating procedures," he said.

France has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region where it has territories, including the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the South Pacific.

During the two-day amphibious exercise from Friday, the troops were sent by aircraft to the GSDF Kirishima training ground that straddles Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures. They conducted an urban warfare drill at the training facility on the assumption that it is a remote island.

The GSDF rapid amphibious deployment brigade, dubbed "Japanese Marines," was among the units that took part in the exercise. Around 100 troops from the GSDF and 60 each from the French army and U.S. Marine Corps participated.

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