Nobuo Kishi said the two ‘agreed to oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the South and East China seas’

China has been aggressively pressing its territorial claims in the two seas, raising tensions with Japan and a number of other Asian countries

Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi and his newly appointed US counterpart Lloyd Austin agreed on Sunday to enhance their countries’ alliance amid

’s growing maritime assertiveness.

“We agreed to oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the

seas,” Kishi told reporters after the two held phone talks.

Kishi said they reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-US security treaty requiring the

to protect Japan against an armed attack covers the disputed

in the East China Sea, which are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. The islands are known as the Senkakus in Japan.

China has been aggressively pressing its territorial claims in the two seas, raising tensions with

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 Defence Ministry.

“We discussed the resolute and resilient nature of the US-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 UN Security Council resolutions.

Kishi, meanwhile, said it is vital for Tokyo and Washington to reach an agreement soon 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.

China on Friday passed a bill that allows its coast guard to use weapons when foreign ships involved in illegal activities in waters claimed by the country fail to obey orders, state-run media reported, in a move that would complicate relations with Japan.

The legislation could target Japanese vessels navigating around the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands.

Chinese ships have been frequently spotted in the so-called contiguous zone outside Japanese waters.

The bill passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, is likely to become a headache for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government, foreign affairs experts say.

Tokyo has been forced to carefully consider how to get along with Beijing, whose ties with Japan’s close security ally, the US, have deteriorated over several matters, including trade, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press briefing on Friday that the contents of the bill “conform to international conventions and practices of various nations”.

“We will continue to work with relevant countries to properly resolve contradictions and differences through dialogue and consultation to ensure regional peace and stability,” she said.

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