Japan and the United States held their first strategic dialogue Wednesday on Southeast Asian affairs as part of broader policy coordination in an area under increasing Chinese influence.
Senior officials from the two governments met virtually after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed during talks last week in Tokyo to boost ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Wednesday's session involved Takehiro Kano, director general of the Southeast and Southwest Asian Affairs Department of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and Daniel Kritenbrink, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
The new dialogue focused on how the two allies can bring ASEAN member states closer to a U.S.-led group of free and democratic countries, as China has apparently been striving to alter the status quo in the East and South China seas and other areas in the Indo-Pacific with force and coercion.
"Southeast Asia is key to realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific," Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hikariko Ono told a press conference after the virtual talks.
The strategic dialogue with the United States was "extremely meaningful" in this regard, Ono said.
The Japanese and U.S. officials also discussed how ASEAN members have been dealing with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to a diplomatic source.
The 10-member bloc has shown mixed reactions, with Singapore being the only nation to join Washington, Tokyo and other Western countries in imposing sanctions on Moscow.