TOKYO - Japan's Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and his newly appointed U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin agreed Sunday to enhance their countries' alliance amid China's growing maritime assertiveness.
"We agreed to oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the South and East China seas," Kishi told reporters after the two held phone talks.
Kishi said they reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. security treaty requiring the United States to protect Japan against an armed attack covers the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
China has been aggressively pressing its territorial claims in the two seas, raising tensions with Tokyo and a number of other Asian countries.
Kishi and Austin agreed on the key role of the bilateral alliance in the region and also on the need to cooperate with various partners, including outside the region, to maintain and strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.
"We discussed the resolute and resilient nature of the U.S.-Japan Alliance and joint efforts to maintain a free & open Indo-Pacific," Austin said on Twitter.
They also agreed to work toward the goal of getting North Korea to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible manner," Kishi said.
They confirmed their countries' determination to prevent North Korea from evading sanctions through such means as illegal ship-to-ship transfers and direct shipments of goods banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Kishi, meanwhile, said it is vital for Tokyo and Washington to reach an agreement at an early date on a replacement for the five-year cost-sharing agreement for the hosting of American troops expiring in March. The two sides are currently in negotiations.
Kishi said Japan would take into consideration the increasing security threat in the region, as well as the country's severe fiscal conditions.