Japan, France confirm nuclear and security cooperation
PARIS (kyodo)-- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Francois Hollande on Monday confirmed bilateral cooperation in the research of the commercial use of nuclear power as well as in security.
The two countries agreed on joint research on a French-led fast reactor development project called ASTRID, an acronym for Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration.
As the leaders met, Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko, who is accompanying Abe, and French environment minister Segolene Royal signed a nuclear power cooperation agreement, stating that they will work together on nuclear fuel cycle and fast reactor development.
France aims to start the operation of ASTRID in the 2030s.
Abe and Hollande also attended a signing ceremony on a deal in which Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. will each acquire a 5 percent stake in a nuclear fuel reprocessing joint venture to be established by French atomic energy company Areva.
In the sphere of security, Abe revealed to reporters after the talks with Hollande that Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Forces will jointly conduct naval exercises with France, the United States and Britain.
The Japanese premier welcomed the "significant" agreement on the exercises to be held in the Asia-Pacific region, including off Guam in the Western Pacific, apparently in view of China's expansionary maritime activities.
The Japanese leader said he and Hollande shared a view that the Indian and Pacific oceans are international public goods and need to be maintained as free and open areas.
Abe said a French training squadron, including a helicopter carrier, will visit Japan in late April.
On regional issues, Abe strongly condemned North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, while Hollande expressed Paris'support for Tokyo on the matter.
It was the 10th and final meeting between Abe and Hollande as the latter is not running in France's upcoming presidential election. The first round of the election is in April followed by a potential runoff vote in May.
As for economic issues, Abe and Hollande agreed on the importance of promoting free trade amid the threat of rising protectionism across the world following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
They affirmed cooperation for the early signing of the free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union.
Abe expressed Japan's support for "a strong Europe" to be maintained even after Britain's forthcoming exit from the bloc.
"Japan and Europe must fly the flag of free trade high, together with the United States," Abe said.
Hollande said the Japan-France relationship can be further strengthened.
France's election is one of a series in Europe this year in which public unease about immigration and the functions of the European Union have fuelled speculation voters could pick populist candidates over the current political establishment.
Abe arrived in Paris on Monday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover. He is scheduled to meet European Council President Donald Tusk and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni before returning to Japan on Wednesday.