Japan and France on Thursday agreed to bolster their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and shared serious concerns over the state of affairs in the East and South China seas, as China's military clout is increasing in the region.

During the virtual talks involving the foreign and defense ministers from each country, the two also expressed their concerns over North Korea's missile and nuclear development following Pyongyang's ballistic missile launch on Monday, its fourth in just two weeks.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (L) and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi attend an online security meeting with French counterparts on Jan. 20, 2022, in Tokyo. (Pool photo)(Kyodo)

"The four ministers affirmed their commitment to promoting cooperation to contribute to the rules-based, free and open Indo-Pacific," the ministers said in a joint statement released after their "two-plus-two" security ministerial meeting, the first of its kind since a session in France in January 2019.

The meeting was attended by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi along with their respective French counterparts Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly.

The four ministers shared "serious concerns" over the state of affairs in the East and South China seas, in a veiled reference to China's growing assertiveness in nearby waters including around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as its own territory and calls Diaoyu.

The statement underscored the importance of "peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."

Japan has been promoting the vision of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" as a counter to the rising influence of China and its increasing maritime assertiveness.

France also has strategic interests in the region since it has overseas territories, including the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the South Pacific.

On North Korea, the ministers affirmed their commitment toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of Pyongyang's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The ministers also said they will continue their efforts to monitor ship-to-ship smuggling involving North Korean vessels.

The ministers welcomed progress in defense cooperation between Japan and France, including their joint exercises last year that also involved the United States, Australia and India.

They also discussed how to cooperate on support missions for Tonga following a devastating undersea volcanic eruption Saturday and the subsequent tsunami waves, given that France has military facilities in its territories near the South Pacific island nation, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry.

The statement added that the two governments should begin discussing a possible framework to ease restrictions on the transportation of weapons and supplies for joint training.

Japan has been reinforcing its defense cooperation with European countries, including Britain and Germany, in addition to its longtime ally the United States, as well as other partners such as Australia that share the same vision for the region.

Japan and France have taken turns hosting such meetings almost every year since their first session in 2014.

They had originally planned to hold an in-person two-plus-two gathering in Japan by the end of 2021, but postponed it amid the rapid spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

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