France wants to boost its relations with Japan all the while maintaining strong ties with China, despite simmering diplomatic tensions between the two Asian giants, France's top diplomat said in an interview published on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun that "Asia occupies, and will occupy, an important place" in French diplomacy.
Fabius is due to visit Tokyo on Tuesday where he will meet his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as part of preparations ahead of a state visit by the French president in June.
"We would like to amplify (relations with Japan) in all areas, especially economic (ties)," he was quoted as saying by the paper, but noted that China "is also a key partner" with which France intends to keep "stable and confident relations."
Tensions have flared between Japan and China lately after nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers last month visited a controversial war shrine in central Tokyo, seen as a potent symbol of Japan's imperialist past.
The move sparked an angry diplomatic response from China, and also South Korea, who see the Yasukuni shrine as a brutal reminder of Japan's wartime aggression as it honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leading war criminals.
China and Japan are also embroiled in tense territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
Fabius said that "next year, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of France's recognition of China. The (French) president went there recently: a positive trip," he said.
On the issue of North Korea -- which remains a key concern for Japan -- Fabius said that as one of the five members of the UN Security Council, France works in concert with Japanese authorities and that "Japan -- as well as the Republic of Korea -- can count on the support of France amid the North Korean threats and provocations".