TOKYO (AP) -- The U.S. Navy's top commander in the Pacific and the Japanese defense minister on Friday said that close cooperation between their naval forces is more important than ever in the region amid rising tensions over China, North Korea and Russia.
Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Sam Paparo that the American naval presence in the region is indispensable to maintain and strengthen a "free and open" Indo-Pacific, a vision of a rules-based framework that the two allies have promoted as a counter to China's rise.
Kishi noted that the regional security environment has further worsened since last year when Paparo took the post and said cooperation between the Japanese and U.S. navies "is only increasing."
Paparo agreed that the security challenge is growing in the Pacific, adding that "tight coordination and integration" between the two navies "have paced and outpaced our potential adversary's operation." Paparo said the Japan and U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of security in the Pacific.
After a decade of steady increases in military spending, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishi has pledged to further bolster Japan's military capability and spending over the next five years, while his government works on a revision to the national security strategy.
Japan's Defense Ministry has reported growing joint naval activity by Chinese and Russian warships around the Japanese coasts. Japanese authorities say Chinese coast guard ships repeatedly infiltrate the territorial waters around the Japanese-controlled East China Sea near the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.
North Korea, which is advancing its missile and nuclear development, has test-fired missiles 17 times this year and there is growing speculation it is preparing another nuclear test explosion.