By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) -The security situation facing Japan and France in the Indo-Pacific is unstable and "getting tougher", Japan's defence minister said on Thursday at the start of talks between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries.
The so-called "two-plus-two" talks between Tokyo and Paris come as Japan has pushed to bolster security cooperation with Western allies as it faces China's growing might and North Korean missile development.
France has overseas territories in the Indo-Pacific and stations armed forces in the region. Rising tensions relating to Taiwan, over which China asserts sovereignty, have put a sharp focus on Japan's security role. North Korea also launched missiles recently in a rapid sequence of weapons tests.
"Unilateral attempts to change the status quo with force are continuing in the Indo-Pacific region, and the security environment surrounding Japan and France is getting tougher and unstable," Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said.
Kishi and Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi met with French counterparts Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly via video conference.
A final statement said the two countries had agreed to strengthen security cooperation and to raise the level of bilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
"The four ministers shared serious concerns about the South and East China Seas situation and agreed to strongly object to unilateral attempts to change the status quo with force," the final statement said.
"They also confirmed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and agreed to urge relevant parties to solve the cross-strait issue peacefully."
It was unclear what the strengthening of bilateral ties meant in practical terms.
Japan and France have already concluded several key security deals, including an agreement on the transfer of defence equipment and technology. The two have increased their joint military drills in recent years.
The bilateral talks come ahead of other security-related meetings involving leaders in the region, including a virtual summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and consultations between Australian and British foreign and defence ministers, both on Friday.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris Editing by Michael Perry, Bernadette Baum and Mark Heinrich)