TOKYO -- Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Malaysian counterpart Mohamad Sabu agreed here Tuesday to increase defense cooperation, as part of Tokyo's campaign to work more closely with Indo-Pacific countries to check China's military buildup in the region.
"Freedom of navigation and the rule of law are crucial to international stability and prosperity," said Onodera, whose comment was directed at China without mentioning the country by name.
Both ministers agreed that issues in the South China Sea -- where China is pitted against several neighbors in disputes over islands and waters -- must be peacefully resolved based on international law. They also signed a memorandum of understanding to increase military communication and collaborate on defense equipment.
The agreement is part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" strategy, which aims to counter Beijing's expansion in the South China Sea through economic and security cooperation with other countries in the region.
Japan continues to strengthen partnerships with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Tokyo said it would help improve their military capabilities and equipment at the 10th Japan-ASEAN Defense Vice Ministerial Forum from Sunday to Monday.
In addition, the Japanese helicopter carrier Kaga began a two-month tour at the end of August to increase Japan's presence in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. It will make stops in nations including the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where it will train with each country's military.
Onodera visited India and Sri Lanka last month, meeting with both countries' defense ministers. He agreed to start talks with India on a bilateral acquisition and cross-servicing agreement, which will allow them to share defense capabilities and supplies, and also offered to help boost the Sri Lankan military's search and rescue capabilities.