French carrier to lead Pacific drill in show of force to China

French carrier to lead Pacific drill in show of force to China


In a display of military power aimed at China, France will dispatch one of its powerful Mistral amphibious carriers to lead drills on and around Tinian Island in the western Pacific, with Japanese and U.S. personnel and two troop-carrying helicopters from the United Kingdom (U.K.), two sources told Reuters.

“Rather than just being a naval exercise, this amphibious exercise will send a clear message to China,” said one of the sources, who was not authorized to talk to the media and asked not to be identified.

The exercise led by the French amphibious carrier, pictured, will take place in the second and third weeks of May 2017, the other source said.

As China’s military strength grows with the addition of power-projecting aircraft carriers, Beijing is extending its influence beyond its coastal waters into the Pacific. The move concerns France, which controls several Pacific island territories, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

China is building a second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, which when complete will join the Liaoning, which was bought from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China. The Liaoning led a group of Chinese warships that sailed through waters south of Japan in December 2016.

Administered by the U.S., Tinian is part of the Northern Mariana Islands, which include Guam, and are about 2,500 kilometers south of Tokyo.

Japan, a close ally of the U.S., possesses Asia’s second-strongest navy after China and is forging closer defense ties with both France and Britain.

London in October 2016 dispatched four Typhoon jet fighters to Japan to train with the Japanese Air Self Defense Force. The British aircraft flew over the disputed South China Sea on the way back to assert overflight rights.

A spokesman for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces said nothing had been decided when asked if there would be a joint amphibious exercise with France, the United States and the U.K..

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Europe on March 19, 2017, for talks with European Union leaders, including French President Francois Hollande.