The US and Japan have agreed to advance their multilateral security and defence cooperation with countries like India, South Korea and Australia, amidst China's growing assertiveness in the Asia Pacific region.
"We will cooperate to advance trilateral and multilateral security and defence cooperation with other partners in the region, notably the Republic of Korea, Australia, India and other southeast Asian countries," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters at a news conference here with Defence Secretary James Mattis.
The news conference was also jointly addressed by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera. "(With) ROK (South Korea), Australia, India and Southeast Asian countries, we will promote more than ever before cooperation in security and defence," Kono said in Japanese which was translated into English.
The four top officials were interacting with reporters after the newly launched US-Japan two plus two dialogue.
During the meeting held yesterday at the headquarters of the State Department, the four leaders among other issues discussed the increasing challenge posed by China in the region and the need to enhance multilateral cooperation with other countries, including India, in the region.
"The ministers highlighted ongoing Alliance efforts to advance trilateral and multilateral security and defence cooperation with other partners in the region, notably the Republic of Korea, Australia, India and Southeast Asian countries," a joint statement issued after the meeting said.
"The ministers underscored the importance of cooperating to promote a rules-based international order, taking note of the United States' continued commitment to maintain a strong presence in the region and Japan's initiatives demonstrated by its 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy'," the statement said.
According to the joint statement, the ministers strongly encourage China to take decisive measures to urge North Korea to change its course of action.
Expressing continuing concerns about the security environment in the East China Sea, they reaffirmed the importance of working together to safeguard the peace and stability of the East China Sea.
Expressing serious concern about the situation in the South China Sea, they reaffirmed their opposition to unilateral coercive actions by claimants, including the reclamation and militarisation of disputed features, that alter the status quo and increase tensions.
Reiterating the importance of the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes through full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, including arbitration, they emphasised the importance of compliance with the international law of the sea, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, including respect for freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea.
"The Ministers underlined the significance of continued engagement in the South China Sea, including through respective activities to support freedom of navigation, bilateral and multilateral training and exercises, and coordinated capacity building assistance," the statement said.
Tillerson said they discussed their concern about the security environment in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
"The United States and Japan oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan's administration of the Senkaku Islands, and we reaffirmed that Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty covers these islands. We also oppose militarisation activity in the South China Sea," he said.
"Maritime disputes should be settled peacefully and maintain the freedom of navigation in accordance with the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea. We maintain our unwavering commitment to the 2015 guidelines for US-Japan defence cooperation, and we have instructed our staff to accelerate their implementation," he said.
Kono echoed Tillerson's views, saying, Japan shared its concerns regarding the situation surrounding East and South China Sea.
"We reaffirmed that the Senkaku Islands are within the scope of Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty, and that we would oppose any unilateral behaviour attempting to undermine Japan's administration of the Senkaku Islands," he said.
"For the peace and stability of East Asia and East China Sea, we will continue to cooperate with the United States. On the South China Sea, we have confirmed that we need to continue to engage ourselves and watch for any acts which would impede freedom of navigation," Kono said.
"Under this severe security environment, under all situations, the alliance must secure seamless response, and it's extremely important. And we agreed that we would properly examine ways to strengthen the alliance," he said.