| SASEBO, April 29
SASEBO, April 29 As tension spikes on the Korean
peninsula, a French amphibious assault carrier sailed into
Japan's naval base of Sasebo on Saturday ahead of drills that
risk upsetting China, which faces U.S. pressure to rein in North
Korea's arms programmes.
The Mistral will lead exercises next month near Guam, along
with forces from Japan, the United States and Britain,
practicing amphibious landings around Tinian, an island about
2,500 km (1,553 miles) south of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.
The drills, involving 700 troops, were planned before
Saturday's test-firing of a ballistic missile by North Korea, in
defiance of world pressure, in what would be its fourth
successive unsuccessful missile test since March.
Japan and the United States are worried by China's efforts
to extend its influence beyond its coastal waters and the South
China Sea by acquiring power-projecting aircraft carriers, a
concern shared by France, which controls several Pacific
islands, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
Even as they seek stronger economic ties with China, both
France and Britain, which has two navy helicopters aboard the
Mistral, are deepening security cooperation with Japan, a close
U.S. ally that has Asia's second-strongest navy after China.
The Mistral forms part of an amphibious task force mission,
the Jeanne d'Arc, that is "a potent support to French
diplomacy," the country's defence ministry said in a statement.
Officials and children's welcome dances greeted the Mistral
in Sasebo, on the western island of Kyushu, a major naval base
for Japan's Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) and the U.S.
The Mistral, which left France in February, can carry up to
35 helicopters and four landing barges, besides several hundred
soldiers. It will stay in Sasebo until May 5.
This month China launched its first domestically-built
aircraft carrier, the Shandong. It joined the Liaoning, bought
from Ukraine in 1998, which led a group of Chinese warships
through waters south of Japan in December.
China's military ambitions, however, have been overshadowed
in recent weeks by tension on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang
conducts long-range missile tests, and prepares for a possible
sixth nuclear test.
In a show of force, the United States has sent the USS Carl
Vinson aircraft carrier group to nearby waters, where it will
join the USS Michigan, a guided missile submarine that docked in
South Korea on Tuesday.
The Carl Vinson entered the Sea of Japan on Saturday, where
it completed naval drills with two Japanese warships dispatched
from Sasebo, an MSDF spokesman said.
(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by