World

A naval drill, and a message aimed at China

TOKYO: 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 US 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 asked not to be identified as they are not authorised to talk to the media.

The exercise will take place in the second and third weeks 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 into the Pacific.

The move worries Japan and the United States, but is also a concern for France, which controls several Pacific islands.

China is building a second aircraft carrier, The Shandong. Its first one, The Liaoning, which was bought from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China, led a group of Chinese warships that sailed through waters south of Japan in December.

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 US ally, possesses Asia's second-strongest navy after China.

A spokesman for Japan's Self Defence Forces said nothing had been decided when asked if there would be a joint amphibious exercise with France, the US and Britain. - REUTERS

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