Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed Thursday to initiate negotiations on a reciprocal access agreement so the two countries can facilitate closer defense cooperation such as joint exercises and disaster relief operations.

Japan has RAAs with Australia and Britain, enabling their defense forces to smoothly access each other's territory for diverse purposes. Additionally, it has agreed with the Philippines to initiate talks for such an accord.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (R) is greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 2, 2024, ahead of their talks. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Kishida met with Macron as Tokyo has been stepping up efforts to strengthen security relations with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region to better deal with China's growing military assertiveness in nearby waters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit France and meet with Macron later this month, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Japan and France have already signed separate deals to expand their security cooperation, including an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement which simplifies the process of sharing food, fuel and ammunition between their forces.

Kishida and Macron also agreed Thursday to strengthen bilateral cooperation in other security areas as well as economic sectors such as the creation of supply chains to secure rare earths and other minerals.

The leaders also discussed how to boost investment in startups and shared hope that bilateral exchanges will be further accelerated through the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics in Paris as well as the World Exposition in Japan's Osaka in 2025, according to the ministry.

France has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific as it has overseas territories in the area, such as New Caledonia in the South Pacific, while Tokyo has been at odds with Beijing over the Japan-controlled, China-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.