TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held his first talks as Japanese leader with President Joe Biden and confirmed they will work to strengthen their alliance and cooperate in regional security in the face of growing challenges from China and North Korea.
Kishida, who was elected by Parliament and sworn in Monday, told reporters that Biden reassured him of the U.S. commitment to defend the Japanese-controlled East China Sea island Senkaku, which China also claims and has escalated coast guard activity in the area.
Biden provided "a strong statement about U.S. commitment for the defense of Japan, including ... Senkaku," Kishida said, adding that the two leaders also reaffirmed they would tackle together the "challenges facing neighboring regions such as China and North Korea."
Kishida supports stronger Japan-U.S. security ties and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia, Europe and Britain, in part to counter China and nuclear-armed North Korea. Kishida has also pledged to beef up Japan's missile and naval defense capabilities.
Kishida on Monday acknowledged the need to continue dialogue with China, an important neighbor and trade partner, but said that "we must speak up" against China's attempt to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas.
The two leaders confirmed their commitment to work together toward achieving the (asterisk)free and open Indo-Pacific" vision of partnerships among the regional democracies as a counter to China's increasingly assertive activity, Kishida said.
Holding his first talks as prime minister with the U.S. president serves "a first step toward lifting the Japan-U.S. alliance to even higher levels," Kishida said.
The 20-minute phone talks Monday started with Biden congratulating Kishida on taking office. The leaders agreed to call each other by their first names, Joe and Fumio, and agreed to meet for their first in-person talks at an early date.
Later Monday, Kishida held online talks with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, agreeing to strengthen their security and economic ties bilaterally and as part of the Quad alliance, which also includes the United States and India, to promote the regional peace and stability, Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Kishida expressed his support of a newly launched security partnership among Australia, Britain and the United States, or AUKUS. He and Morrison reaffirmed their firm objection to what's seen as economic overbearing by China and unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the regional seas, the ministry said.
Kishida, 64, had been known as a moderate in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party but won the party's leadership last week after a hawkish turn on security and taking a more conservative stance on gender equality and other issues, apparently to win over influential conservatives in the party.
He succeeds Yoshihide Suga, who resigned after only one year in office after seeing his support plunging over his handling of the virus and insistence on holding the Olympics -- seen as high-handed and ignoring the public's concerns.