According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Secretary Mark Esper received Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono today to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Japanese alliance and to discuss ways to deepen and expand bilateral defense cooperation.

Esper and Kono exchanged views and reaffirmed their shared position of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Both sides expressed concern over the decision of the Chinese Communist Party to impose a controversial national security law on Hong Kong, as well as over coercive and destabilizing actions with regard to Taiwan.

The officials reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining an internationally agreed-upon, rules-based order in the South China Sea, and more broadly in the region and the world.

Esper welcomed Japan’s efforts to bring in like-minded new partners and strengthen the line of resistance to the CCP’s overwhelming advance in the region. These include members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), India, Australia, and trilaterally with the United States and the Republic of Korea.

Esper used the meeting to reiterate the U.S.’s commitment to the full implementation of the joint statement by President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong Un at the 2018 Singapore Summit, which includes the complete elimination of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, its means of production and its means of delivery.

South China Sea, Historic Conflict

The South China Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean, stretching from Singapore to the Taiwan Strait, the islands of Borneo and the archipelago of the Philippines. In the middle there are hundreds of islands whose sovereignty was a historical cause of conflicts by neighboring nations. It is not simple nationalism that triggers the conflicts, but rather it is the economic and strategic interest in the area.

The CCP, in an attempt of territorial expansion, claims 90 percent of potentially energy-rich waters. But Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam also claim parts of it.

The United States has long opposed the CCP’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and has sent warships and aircraft carriers regularly in an attempt to maintain free movement and limit the abuses of the CCP.

In the latest sign of rising tensions between the United States and the CCP, the CCP’s military on Friday said it had “expelled” a U.S. missile destroyer from the waters off the disputed Paracel Islands the day before. According to the SCMP, U.S. officials confirmed that a navy ship sailed near the islands to keep shipping routes open and “challenge(d) excessive maritime claims and enforce(D) the laws of the sea in international waters.”