Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi. (Kyodo)

Japan is considering holding a meeting of defense ministers with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in late June in Cambodia as part of efforts to counter China's growing maritime assertiveness, government sources said Friday.

With the envisaged talks, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi will highlight the importance of maintaining a maritime order based on the rule of law, according to the sources.

Kishi will likely oppose any attempt to "unilaterally alter the status quo by force" at the gathering, the sources said, in the wording often employed by Japan to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a veiled criticism against China's intensifying military activities.

Japan has been trying to enhance its relations with ASEAN members in defense as they are located in a strategically important area straddling key sea lanes, including the South China Sea. Some of the members have territorial disputes with China in the sea.

The meeting would take place on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting in Cambodia, this year's chair of the 10-member bloc, the sources said.

North Korea's nuclear and missile development is also a possible agenda item for the meeting, according to the sources.

Japan and ASEAN last held an in-person meeting of defense chiefs in November 2019. They had a teleconference in December 2020.

ASEAN also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.