French defence minister starts Asia tour

15th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

TOKYO, March 15, 2007 (AFP) - France's defence minister started a tour of Asia on Thursday in Japan, which has deep concerns about North Korea's nuclear drive and European proposals to end an arms embargo on China.

TOKYO, March 15, 2007 (AFP) - France's defence minister started a tour of Asia on Thursday in Japan, which has deep concerns about North Korea's nuclear drive and European proposals to end an arms embargo on China.

Michele Alliot-Marie, who will also visit South Korea and China, was due Thursday to meet with her Japanese colleague Fumio Kyuma.

Kyuma caused a stir earlier this year when he criticised the decision of the United States, Japan's closest ally, to invade Iraq. Japan had supported the war, which was strongly opposed by France.

Kyuma in January became Japan's first full-fledged defense minister since 1945 as Japan sheds some of the official pacifism imposed by the United States after its defeat in World War II.

"The transformation earlier this year of the Japanese Defence Agency into the Defence Ministry should allow us to boost bilateral relations," Alliot-Marie said in an interview with Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

But outgoing French President Jacques Chirac has irritated Japan with his past calls to lift the European Union arms embargo on China.

Momentum to lift the embargo, which was imposed after China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square in 1989, has subsided due to tension between Beijing and Taiwan.

Alliot-Marie said a lifting of the EU embargo would "not mean for the time being the sale of arms" or "the end of controls on arms exports."

"France will be mindful of the Japanese government's concerns," she said.

"The Europeans have no intention to engage in a policy of exporting weapons to China which, for that matter, isn't asking for that," she said.

Alliot-Marie is due to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday. Later in the tour, she will hold talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

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