Japan is set to conduct a joint military exercise with the US and France next year at one of its uninhabited outlying islands.

Scheduled for May, the military exercise will be conducted on land and sea, Reuters reported citing local newspaper Sankei newspaper.

The drills will focus on enhancing response and relief efforts during natural calamities. However, parts of the exercise may also form a basis for enhancing defences against military attacks.

The move comes when China has reportedly ramped up military activity in the East China Sea.

French Navy chief of staff Admiral Pierre Vandier was quoted by the paper as saying in a separate interview: “We want to demonstrate our presence to the region and send a message about Japan-France cooperation.

“This is a message aimed at China. This is a message about multi-lateral partnerships and the freedom of passage.”

The Senakaku islands in East China Sea are a source of dispute between Japan and China. The Japanese-controlled islands are also claimed by China.

The development comes just weeks after Australia, India, Japan and the US completed the second phase of a maritime exercise in the Northern Arabian Sea.

The second phase of the Exercise Malabar 2020 focused on improving the integration between the maritime forces of the four nations.

Japan also signed a key military pact with India earlier this year. The agreement will enable the forces of the two countries to access each other’s bases for supplies and services during bilateral training, peacekeeping, humanitarian operations and other mutually agreed activities.