By Hyun Oh
GUAM (Reuters) - A French-led amphibious force, including contingents from Japan, Britain and the United States, postponed their first-ever joint beach attack drills in the Western Pacific on Friday after a landing craft ran aground, commanders said.
The military exercise in Guam, which included U.S. troops, British and Japanese helicopters and landing craft launched from France's amphibious Mistral carrier, had been meant as a show of force to counter China's growing military power in the region.
However, the halt to training on Friday could blunt that message.
"It further builds our partnerships in the region to provide a reasonable assurance to those who may not agree with us too much that we are ready at all times," Captain Jeff Grimes, the U.S. Navy's chief of staff in the region, said on the beach where the practice landings were meant to have taken place.
The exercise was halted after a French landing craft ran aground, damaging one of its propellers, Grimes said. A separate helicopter landing drill was also canceled, a spokesman for Japan's Self Defense Forces said later.
China is extending its influence beyond its coastal waters and the South China Sea into the Pacific by acquiring aircraft carriers. France controls several islands in the Pacific, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
France is seeking stronger economic ties with Beijing but, along with Britain, is also looking to balance China's expanding power by deepening security cooperation with Japan, Asia's second-strongest naval power after China, and the United States.
The Mistral is leading the Jeanne d'Arc amphibious task force in a tour through Asia. The French defense ministry, in summary of the mission, described it as "a potent support to French diplomacy".
The Mistral, which left France in February, can carry up to 35 helicopters and four landing barges, as well as several hundred soldiers. The ship visited Japan this month before heading to Guam.
(Reporting by Hyun Oh; Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Joseph Radford and Paul Tait)