French carrier to lead drills in Pacific

TOKYO • In a display of military power aimed at China, France will dispatch one of its powerful Mistral amphibious carriers to lead drills in and around Tinian island in the western Pacific, with Japanese and United States personnel and two troop-carrying helicopters sent by Britain, 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 were not authorised to talk to the media and so asked not to be identified.

The exercise will take place in the second and third week of May, 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 worries Japan and the US, but is also a concern for France which controls several Pacific island territories, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

China is building a second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, which will join the Liaoning. In December last year, the Liaoning led a group of warships that sailed through waters south of Japan.

Administered by the US, Tinian is part of the Northern Mariana Islands, which include Guam, lying about 2,500km south of Tokyo.

Japan, a close ally of the US, has Asia's second-strongest navy after China and is forging closer defence ties with both France and Britain.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'French carrier to lead drills in Pacific'. Print Edition | Subscribe