Praising Japan's contributions to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told business executives that Japan's actions went beyond any expectations.

Wolfowitz said Japan has committed a third of its C-130 transport planes to the war against terrorism and has been refueling naval vessels aiding the effort.

"These are not things Japan was obligated to do. These were actions of a close and trusted friend. They were actions Japan took on its own initiative," Wolfowitz told an audience attending the U.S.-Japan Business Conference.

Wolfowitz attributed the backing to "extraordinary changes in Japanese security attitudes" since the Gulf War.

Wolfowitz said Japan's economic recovery is "every bit as important to the security of Japan and security of the United States and security of the region" as is the military assistance against terrorism.

He said Japan "has all the tools it needs to put its own economic house in order."

"The question for Japan is not whether it has the means to restore itself to ... economic growth," he said. "The question is whether it has the will."

Wolfowitz echoed comments made by President Bush, who is in Tokyo to express confidence in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's reforms. Koizumi is fighting a 10-year economic downturn that has been made worse by deflation and high unemployment as well as close ties between conservative members of Japan's Parliament, or Diet, and banking executives.

Japan, whose support for the United States was tempered after Bush named North Korea as a member of the "axis of evil" alongside Iran and Iraq, fears backing U.S. comments may make reconciling relations with the communist nation more difficult.

South Korea's Kim Dae Jung, who will meet with Bush later this week, has also expressed concern. Dae Jung earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reconcile with North Korea.

On Monday, Wolfowitz repeated U.S. concerns that "North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction while its citizens starve" but said the United States has not written off North Korea completely.

"The door to dialogue is open. We stand by our offer to meet with the North anytime, anywhere, without preconditions, for substantive discussions," he added.

He also welcomed Kim's continued efforts at peace.

On relations with China, Wolfowitz said that Beijing was "not an enemy, but it is not a strategic partner, either." He said that China, "unfortunately, has been part of the problem" in the proliferation of weapons.

He added, "We will also continue to uphold our commitment to ensure that Taiwan has adequate means for its own defense."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.