France rejoins Japan in N Korea surveillance in East China Sea

A French Navy vessel will conduct surveillance activities in the East China Sea until early March as part of international efforts to block North Korea from engaging in ship-to-ship transfers of goods at sea in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.

It will be the second time that France has carried out such activities in waters near Japan since 2019, the ministry said.

Japan welcomed the dispatch of the frigate Prairial, with the ministry pledging to ensure “effective implementation” of relevant Security Council resolutions in partnership with France and other members of the international community.

The Japan Coast Guard and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force are collecting information on the activities of “vessels suspected to be in violation” of the resolutions, and Tokyo will “work closely with related countries,” the ministry said in a statement issued Thursday.

Japan also vowed to maintain solidarity with allies and partners “for the realization of North Korea’s dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner,” it said.

Japan has reported to the United Nations multiple cases of suspected ship-to-ship goods transfers between North Korean and foreign-registered vessels in the East China Sea since 2018.

The Prairial’s mission to monitor Pyongyang’s illicit maritime activities comes as European powers have stepped up engagement in the Indo-Pacific, partly due to rising concern about China’s assertiveness and military buildup.

France’s recent activities in the region include a patrol in the South China Sea by the nuclear-powered submarine Emeraude earlier this month, in a veiled counter to Beijing’s militarization of disputed areas of the strategic waterway.

The submarine also took part in a joint drill last December with the MSDF and the U.S. Navy off Japan’s southernmost island of Okinotorishima.

The French Navy also plans to deploy its amphibious assault ship Tonnerre to Japan later this year.

Paris has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific where it has territories, including the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the South Pacific.

Similarly this year, Britain will send the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group to East Asia, while Germany will dispatch a naval vessel to the Indo-Pacific.

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