French amphibious carrier visits Japan ahead of Pacific show of power

As tension spikes on the Korean peninsula, a French amphibious assault carrier sailed into Japan’s naval base of Sasebo on Saturday ahead of drills that risk upsetting China, which faces U.S. pressure to rein in North Korea’s arms programmes.

The Mistral will lead exercises next month near Guam, along with forces from Japan, the United States and Britain, practicing amphibious landings around Tinian, an island about 2,500 km (1,553 miles) south of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.

Even as they seek stronger economic ties with China, both France and Britain, which has two navy helicopters aboard the Mistral, are deepening security cooperation with Japan, a close U.S. ally that has Asia’s second-strongest navy after China.

The Mistral forms part of an amphibious task force mission, the Jeanne d’Arc, that is “a potent support to French diplomacy,” the country’s defence ministry said in a statement.

Officials and children’s welcome dances greeted the Mistral in Sasebo, on the western island of Kyushu, a major naval base for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) and the U.S. Navy.

The Mistral, which left France in February, can carry up to 35 helicopters and four landing barges, besides several hundred soldiers. It will stay in Sasebo until May 5.

This month China launched its first domestically-built aircraft carrier. It joined the Liaoning, bought from Ukraine in 1998, which led a group of Chinese warships through waters south of Japan in December.

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Credit: Reuters

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