Japan signs arms deal with France as part of effort to expand international military role

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TOKYO — Japan and France signed an arms transfer agreement Friday, paving the way to develop drones and other unmanned equipment together as Japan seeks to play a greater international military role.

In talks on diplomacy and national security, the two countries' foreign and defense ministers reached an agreement aimed at exchanges of defense equipment, services and technology and starting talks on specific projects. The ministers signed the agreement at a joint news conference following the talks.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is preparing to make legal changes to accommodate plans to bolster Japan's defense role, allowing it to defend a foreign country under attack amid China's growing military presence in the region.

The deal with France, a major weapons exporter, could give Japan a greater access to the lucrative defense market.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian cited drones for underwater surveillance and mine removal and explosives-handling robots as possible candidates for joint development.

"France and Japan have a lot in common. We are both maritime nations, and we have high-tech companies. Together, we can make a win-win situation," he said through an interpreter.

His Japanese counterpart, Gen Nakatani, said Japan hoped they can quickly launch specific projects.

Japan has signed similar arms equipment and technology transfer agreements with the U.S., Britain and Australia.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius also joined the talks.

Japan and France also agreed to step up broader military cooperation and anti-terrorism efforts.

Japan last year revised its defense guidelines to expand its military role and also eased a self-imposed ban on transfers of arms equipment and technology.

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