TOKYO/PARIS -- The Japanese government played a role in the breakdown of merger talks between Renault and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles earlier this month, weighing in with concerns that the combination could harm Nissan, people familiar with the matter said.
Japan signaled its misgivings over the deal to the French government, said the people, asking not to be identified speaking about the negotiations.
France, Renault's most powerful shareholder, then sought a pause in the talks for more time to win Nissan's support, provoking FCA to withdraw its offer.
Details on Japan's role, only emerging now, highlight the obstacles to a quick resumption in merger negotiations between Renault and FCA. They also show that France and Japan can find common ground to protect their automakers and the two-decade Renault-Nissan alliance.
A spokesman for Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the French finance ministry. Representatives for Renault and Nissan also declined to comment.
Renault and the French state are now focusing on repairing the relationship with Nissan, under strain since the November arrest of Carlos Ghosn, who oversaw both companies and their partnership. Tensions escalated further when Renault's new Chairman, Jean-Dominique Senard, pressed Nissan for merger it did not want, then pursued the FCA deal without telling the Japanese company.
Relations touched a new low earlier this month when Senard threatened to block Nissan's new governance plan at its annual shareholders meeting. An accord Thursday put an end to the spat over boardroom powers, easing tensions for now.
Heading into the pivotal June 5 Renault board meeting, Senard and FCA Chairman John Elkann were pushing for quick approval of the tie-up.
Nissan had been cool to the FCA-Renault deal since it first learned of the talks, people familiar with the matter said. But rather than come out against it openly, the Japanese company's representatives on Renault's board choose to signal their opposition with an abstention, the people said.
Dialogue with Japanese officials helped their French counterparts understand Nissan's position, prompting France to put the brakes on the deal.
While CEO Hiroto Saikawa had pledged to protect Nissan's interests, the company did not ask Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry to intervene with the French government, according to a person familiar with the matter.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has said that Nissan's plan to abstain on the Renault-FCA vote drove his decision to seek a delay.
The last-minute move by Le Maire to pause the Renault-FCA talks won him praise from some Nissan insiders. The FCA proposal was seen by some at Nissan as a way of getting control of the company and its key technologies and to benefit from its presence in the U.S. and China -- all on the cheap.
Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan and their operations are so intertwined that the deal would have had deep implications for the Japanese partner, the insiders said.